Making the Judgment Call
By Sam Longo AME A&P
As aircraft maintainers the most valuable tool that we posses is not located in our toolbox. It is however a resource that we continue to covet and collect through out our careers. That intangible commodity is commonly known as experience.
When I started my employment with Air Canada in January of 1979, it was a dream come true. I had just finished writing my Transport Canada license in October of 1978 and everything was really coming together. My previous experience, working with Nordair and DeHavilland Canada, gave me the confidence to tackle my new post wielding wrenches for the nations airline and I was keen to learn the ropes.
After a few weeks being closely watched and tested on day shift, I was deemed a sufficiently worthy candidate and was subsequently assigned a 6-3-rotation shift on Crew 21. As the shifts rolled by I worked hard, always learning and listening, patiently guided by the senior mechanics on my crew. By enlarge they were all very generous, constantly sharing their wisdom and experience.
One particular midnight shift, I was assigned to work with Gert. He was an excellent mechanic trained in Germany having worked for Lufthansa and American Airlines before coming to Air Canada. On this particular night he shared a pearl of wisdom that I will never forget. After making a judgment call on the condition of a tire he turned to me and said in a slight German accent; “Sammy, zee difference between a good mechanic und a bad mechanic iz…..a good mechanic knows vat he can get away wiz”
To explore this gem of a statement further, how does that “good” mechanic know what he can get away with? The answer is elementary; he has accumulated the necessary experience to consistently make the correct judgment call. Despite a highly regulated industry with many clear-cut rules, regulations and procedures set out ever so carefully in MEL’s (minimum equipment lists), Maintenance Manuals and Transport Canada publications, there will always be those pesky gray areas. Consequently, someone will have to make a decision. Should it fly or not? We all have our own stories of playing this game. One that comes to mind for me, happened much later in my career with Air Canada.
It was the start of the evening shift and I had moved on to working in Wide Body Check Crew. The Foreman assigned me to change a Fuel Control Unit (FCU) on the port engine of a L1011. He also informed me that the aircraft was required to be serviceable and on the gate before the end of our shift.
Due to the urgency of the situation I got to work right away opening the cowlings of the Rolls Royce RB211 engine. I also checked the box left by stores. The new FCU was the correct part but I immediately noticed the lack of a seal kit. I had done enough FCU changes to know that new seals were required, so I quickly informed the Foreman of the omission and carried on with the job. The HP pump, FCU and attached plumbing are all secured with a plethora of 5/16 MS bolts, using finely machined surfaces and rubber o-rings for transferring and sealing the high-pressure fuel within.
Now up to my elbows in fuel pipes and parts the Forman reappears to let me know that the seal kit is not coming and suggests that I simply re-use the old seals and get on with the job. The clock is ticking and now the fun begins.
Working in a Union Environment always has its pros and cons, but the collective agreement is clear. You cannot refuse to do a job when requested by a foreman. I was not happy with his request to use the old seals and gave him my opinion as such. I also added that although I would carry out the job, I would refuse to sign for the work. He was clearly OK with that compromise and the job continued. Before installing the new FCU I very carefully inspected all the old o-rings and found them all to be nick free, pliable and in “as new” condition. Once the component change was complete the big Tri Star was towed and chocked at the blast fence for a leak check and FCU tuning run. All was well and afterwards it made the gate just before the end of our shift.
So now the question remains. Was the use of those o-rings ethical? Legal? Perhaps the most important question, was I comfortable in knowing that the job was beyond reproach and the aircraft safe? The answer is yes and yes. There was no doubt in my mind that the job was carried out to the highest standard. Refusing to sign the job cards was my way of protesting the compromising position in which I had been placed. It was also the only time this type of situation ever occurred with me at Air Canada. To this day I do not know who signed for my work.
ACRONYM ANOMALIES by Sam Longo AME A&P
Have you ever stopped to notice how often you use acronyms on a daily basis? “Yesterday I dropped into HMV to pick up a few CD’s and DVD’s. Driving home in my SUV, I decided to get some KFC, got lost while checking my GPS and side-swiped a truck from UPS!”
Although acronyms are really starting to go mainstream in our everyday vocabulary, they have always been a mainstay in the language of aviation. Though it is not common knowledge, even the word acronym is in fact an acronym. It stands for, ABREVIATED, CONFUSING, RARELY, OBVIOUS, NAMES, YOU, MAKE, simply because you are to lazy to write the whole thing. The lists of aviation acronyms for parts, products and systems can be overwhelming and often confusing. We strive to learn them all but the list just continues to grow. The industry barely gets a new name out and it is immediately acronomized. The new Honda Jet is a good example. The very light jet has already become a VLJ!
When I was a teenager (many years ago) my first sports car was, a well used, 1962 MG Midget. When I purchased the car I remember that my father was horrified. “You could have gotten a nice dependable American car!” he said. In his opinion, MG simply stood for ”miles of grief.” Sure enough, keeping the little car going was a full time job. The first time it wouldn’t start posed a bit of a problem. I couldn’t figure out how to open the damn hood. I finally realized that the little knob under the dash with the “B” on it stood for bonnet and so my education into acronyms and British sports car nomclementure began. Soon I was, popping the bonnet, opening the boot, and fetching my spanners to replace brushes in the dynamo. Ah yes the dynamo…obviously the “Prince of Darkness” Mr. Lucas himself, didn’t have the nerve or the confidence to actually call it a generator! Hence the motto of all British car and motorcycles enthusiasts world wide, “Get home before dark!” After all the lights were controlled by the even more famous, three- position, Lucas toggle switch…dim, flicker, and off!
Speaking of generators and getting back to the topic of aviation, the modern flying machine is an acronomic nightmare. The generator is now a CSD (constant speed drive) or an IDG (integral drive generator). The engines have FADEC (full authority digital engine control), to command the FCU (fuel control unit) and VIGV’s (variable inlet guide vanes). You need not worry if your EGT (exhaust gas temperature) is too high or your EPR (engine pressure ratio) is too low. Simply do an HSI (hot section inspection) to check out the engines condition. If you find a crack, no problem, we can check it out with NDT (non destructive testing). If the part turns out to be NFG (no freaking good) we can order a new one AOG (aircraft on ground) and have you flying ASAP (as soon as possible). As you can see this acronym thing is OOC (out of control)!
Recently in the engine overhaul shop at Centennial College, a student asked a question while doing a bulk inspection of a Lycoming engine. It concerned the inside diameter of the shaft bearings of the crankshaft. The table of limits stated: “diameter must be concentric with main bearing within .003 inch TIR”. “What is TIR?” they asked. Fortunately it was coffee break (saved by the bell) so my fellow instructor and I looked it up on his computer. In aviation acronyms alone we found over thirty possibilities. Luckily we quickly narrowed it down to the only logical choice (total indicated runout). Never the less it was a real eye opener!
Another interesting acronym misadventure, was trying to determine the meaning of the RSA fuel injection system. This system has been around for a while and is still used on many piston engine aircraft today. I finally found the answer in an old RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) training manual. This system uses a stem assembly and poppet valve to control fuel flow. The stem is connected to an air diaphragm and a fuel diaphragm, each regulated by two air pressures and two fuel pressures respectively, hence the name RSA (regulated stem assembly).
Fortunately for me, those early days with the MG Midget were not so complicated. It was a relatively simple car to work on and was a great way to learn the secrets of basic maintenance. I sealed the leaky petrol tank with PRC (Product Research Company), topped up the SU carburetors (Skinners Union) with ATF (automatic transmission fluid) and lubricated the linkages and cables with WD40 (water dispersant, formula #40). I re-sealed the rocker cover with RTV (room temperature vulcanized) and filled up the crankcase with oil and STP (scientifically treated petroleum). Afterward, that little MG Midget ran like a clock. MG? We all know that one stands for Morris Garages. However, as stated earlier, acronyms can often have many different definitions. As a nineteen year old, high school kid, MG had only one meaning that mattered… more girls. In my rusty recollection, a very accurate acronym, indeed!
THE MOTORCYLE-AVIATION CONNECTION
By Sam Longo, AME
The link between aircraft and motorcycles dates back to the very beginning of powered flight. Everyone knows that Glenn Curtiss was a famous pioneer of early aviation, but before he pursued that particular passion, he also built bicycles and motorcycles. By 1901, he was designing, building and racing his own motorcycles. In 1904, he invented the twist grip throttle control, now standard on every modern motorcycle. In 1907, he was crowned “the fastest man in the world” by coaxing a V8 powered motorcycle to an astonishing 136.36 MPH! That particular record remained unchallenged for many years thereafter. It wasn’t until 1911 that he actually earned his pilot’s licence (number one by the way!)
Rumour has it that, even the blue and white logo that adorns every BMW motorcycle and automobile is a stylized whirling propeller derived from the early days of building aircraft engines. Paralleling that same motorcycle-flight connection, Motoguzzi’s logo is the Condor, Harley Davidson the Eagle and of course Honda uses a wing, to name just a few.
The mechanical DNA between motorcycles and aircraft runs quite deep. Both have traditionally used air-cooled engines and require good horsepower to weight ratios for optimum performance. Both machines require the operator to tilt or bank the machine around its longitudinal axis to navigate a turn. Also in terms of a “sense of movement” an open cockpit aircraft and a motorcycle both share the same acute exhilaration derived from feeling the rush of air at speed. It is not surprising then that many similar minded people are drawn to both.
A more current connection between aircraft and motorcycles is a creation of MTT, based in Franklin, Louisiana. They are the creators of the “Y2K”, a motorcycle powered by a Rolls Royce/Allison 250 series, gas turbine engine. Its 320 shaft horsepower normally powers a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter. The Guinness Book of Records lists this “turbine terror’ as the fastest production motorcycle on the planet and at a cost of $150 thousand you can have it in any colour you choose. Jay Leno has one and to quote him: “Twisting the throttle is like a push from the hand of God!”
Biblical references aside, my own connection with aircraft and motorcycles began in the early 1970s. I got my motorcycle license and first bike in 1973 and enrolled in Centennial College’s aircraft maintenance program in 1974. I also paid my tuition by teaching motorcycle safety training courses for Toronto Cycle School on weekends. My passion for aviation, motorcycles and cars has never subsided. I currently own six vintage Hondas and a “recently turbocharged” Mazda Miata. One of my Honda motorcycles, a 1973 CB750, I have owned and ridden for the past 36 years. It is now a highly modified Café Racer with a number of aviation related modifications. The oil pressure warning light was originally a Boeing 727 galley oven light. The clamps securing the oil cooler arrived “AOG” from Montreal, while working at Air Canada and the custom tail light sits on an aluminium bracket, hand fabricated while on shift at DeHavilland. Every winter brings new ideas to further enhance and evolve the original design. The evolution of that particular bike will likely continue for as long as I can turn a wrench and lift a leg over the seat to ride. Speaking of rides, I would be remiss if I did not relate the tale of my most bizarre motorcycle ride that is, of course, aviation related.
The Canadian Arctic is not the sort of place that usually generates motorcycle memories, yet in March of 1976 I was bound for a tour in Frobisher Bay on Baffin Island. As a young apprentice aircraft mechanic, I really didn’t know what to expect… and motorcycles were the furthest thing from my mind.
As it turned out however, during a midnight shift in the Nordair hangar, a young Inuit lad approached me and asked if I could fix his motorcycle. He had attempted to do some work on it, and now it failed to run. A well-used Kawasaki trail bike sat half buried amid aircraft parts at the back of the hangar. We pulled it out and after a short time tinkering, and a few investigative questions, I discovered the problem. The carburetor float was installed upside down. Once this was sorted out, a few quick stabs of the kick start and it roared to life! The owner’s face lit up with delight and he insisted that I take it for a spin. Under the intense glow of the Northern Lights, I ripped around the frozen aircraft ramp, doing wheelies until I was frozen solid. Later, reflecting on that unique experience, I wrote the following poem: (with apologies to Mr. Robert Service)
The Northern Lights have seen strange sights,
But the strangest that they ever did see,
Was the end of the day, up in Frobisher Bay,
Me, on a Kawasaki
It was sixty below, tarmac blowing with snow,
Yet I gleefully clicked it in gear,
Soon my face was quite numb, after wheelies of fun,
With a freeze dried grin, ear to ear
Some call it a ploy, to ride such a toy,
In the land of the Midnight Sun,
Just to boast to my mates, with a record that states,
Baffin Island’s “my northernmost run”