“Notes from a Neat Freak”

 Sam Longo, AME, A&P

Being organized is not an absolute necessity in the ongoing endeavor to maintain modern aircraft, but it does have its advantages.  There is nothing worse than rummaging through your toolbox searching for your 9/16 wrench only to realize that it is most likely at 35,000 feet, currently westbound, heading for Vancouver!

Hello my name is Sam Longo and I am a self-proclaimed neat freak.  I just can’t help myself.  It is ingrained in my very nature, and started at an early age.  Raised in a large family in a home that was usually rather messy, I seem to have gravitated to the opposite end of the spectrum.  My environment must always be neat, tidy and organized.  There are no exceptions; my home, toolbox, office or workshop must all adhere to this often-strict standard.  I have been both praised and teased about this, and that’s OK, it’s just the way I work best.

The first time my older sister, Louise, entered my little motorcycle workshop ‘Honda Heaven’, her immediate comment was “Oh my gosh, it’s neater than my apartment.”  Yes, there is no doubt, it is a blessing and a curse, still I believe it is a personality quirk that lends itself well to doing quality work on any type of complex machinery, especially aircraft.  This is not to imply that being neat and organized is an absolute requirement. I have many friends and colleagues who achieve phenomenal results from a work space, that to me, looks like utter chaos.

My own Father was an appliance repairman and was one of the most disorganized technicians I have ever met.  He was a good mechanic and could fix anything but order and tidiness were not part of his personal equation.  The back of his van was filled with a mountain of scattered parts and tools.  Amazingly he could always find the exact required dishwasher inlet solenoid valve and immediately pluck it from the pile.  This seemingly impossible magic trick never failed to impress me! 

Repairing a domestic appliance is one thing, however working for an airline, adds some interesting twists to this issue of organized maintenance.  It is an operation that usually runs twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, with an ongoing turnover of tasks and personnel.  Simply put, the guy that removes the engine or aileron may not be the guy that reinstalls the new one.  This is where lack of systematic procedures can really hamper efficient aircraft repair.  An excellent example of this was thrust upon me at the start of an evening shift during my Air Canada days.

It was a routine job; replace the H.P. fuel pump on a Rolls Royce RB211, on the number one engine of a Lockheed L1011.  The H.P. pump is typically sandwiched between the accessory gearbox and the Fuel Control Unit (FCU).  It requires the removal of the FCU before gaining access to the pump.  If done methodically in sequence, it is not a difficult job, however this time it would become a special challenge.  Someone else had removed both units and dumped all the mounting bolts, lines, hardware and components in a disorganized heap on the hangar floor.  It was now my job to sort through the pile and reassemble it all into a functioning assembly.  After cursing the “technician” who left me the mess, I carefully sorted through all the parts and began putting them back in order for reassembly.  This little project alone, took quite a bit of time.  RB211 engines are assembled almost exclusively with thousands of 5/16 inch, 12 point, MS bolts, all of varying lengths.  Each had to be tried and matched to its appropriate depth of bolthole by trial and error.  Frustrating yet necessary.  As the evening progressed the maintenance shift foreman came around and made an inquiry:  “Sam, what’s taking so long?  You removed and installed one of these last week and you did it in half the time!”  He spoke the truth. It would have been far easier and faster if I had done the whole job myself, from start to finish, using my usual, sequential procedure.

So what are some of the advantages of being organized while performing routine aircraft maintenance?  As the previously relayed story so clearly illustrates, organization almost always saves time, and in this business, time is money. 

In addition, being organized, in terms of tools and procedures, will result in a safer aircraft maintenance operation.  Fewer distractions while looking for tools or parts means less likelihood of making a critical mistake.  Even a well laid out toolbox will result in fewer tools left in aircraft potentially reducing incidents and accidents.

Lastly, leaving a job neat and tidy at shift change will make the next mechanics job that much easier, not to mention, looking much more professional.  After all, being an AME truly is a profession, and one that we should all take pride in.

By the way, in reference to that westbound wrench at 35,000 feet, I am happy to say it wasn’t mine!  However, my lock-wiring pliers once flew to Calgary and back, in a 767 air conditioning bay.  What can I say? Even neat freaks make mistakes!


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