Not So Fast

By lex, on November 9th, 2011

The jet was broken when I arrived at the aerodrome. Which it wasn’t my fault, she was fine when I left her last night. Summat to do with fuel going where it really didn’t orta, and then spilling over the side. Over-pressures, imbalances. That sort of thing.

Our mechanics on site gave it their best to make things right within the flying day. Firstly because they are genuinely good people, and maybe also because – having been in Fallon for the last two weeks – they were keen to get on their merry. But all the best will in the world cannot make a flyable machine out of one that is not without cracking open the panels and rooting around in her innards for a while.

Here’s the thing about mechanics, all them: I admire the hell out of what they do. As an operator, I have an operator’s level of knowledge about the jet. I can get her started, milk her into the air, rage around for a time with my hair on fire and gently put her back to earth. Should something go amiss in flight, I am trained and expected to maintain flying speed, analyze the situation and take corrective action. Which largely consists of minimizing the impact of whatever it is that has decided to play the fool. The odds of me getting out on a wing with wrench in hand and tightening up the whoozifligger that’s gone loose being doubly impossible, first because the aerial environment does not admit to exo-vehicle maintenance operations while in flight, but even more importantly because I haven’t the foggiest, once you’ve peeled the skin back.

Oh, I can tell you that she’s leaking something more than she ought to be. Or that a tire, or main gear oleo seems to be a little under-serviced, and somebody ought to look to that.  I can tell you that any of her several condition sensors are reporting indications out of their tolerance; oil pressure, oil quantity, exhaust gauge temperature, RPM, nozzle position and the like. I even have sufficient hours in the machine to helpfully tell maintenance that something didn’t feel quite right, without being any more specific. (It ended up being the cabin pressure seal, that time.)

But when it comes to fuel going where it ought not go, I am only the messenger.

Which is where the mechanic steps in.

There are, broadly speaking, two classes of aircraft mechanics. There are those who understand the systems in general terms, and – while holding the maintenance publications in hand – dutifully trace the fault tree until they have found the most likely source of the malfunction. Having replaced, re-tightened or reconnected whatever it was that went astray, they will turn the aircraft’s engine to see if that fixed the problem. If it did, well then: Off you go. If it didn’t, well. Back to the book.

The other has an almost innate feel for the inner workings of the machine. Give him the vaguest explanation of the fault, and his eyes will go distant for a moment as he inwardly traces the fuel lines, fuel reservoir sensors, pressure pumps and transfer valves. He will be able to determine the most likely possible problem almost intuitively, or so it seems, and recommend the swiftest possible remedy. He’ll be able to tell you ways to fault isolate the issue, over the phone. What had seemed the work of tedious days becomes a glad task of hours.

We’ve got a guy like that. I think most successful aviation organizations have at least one, two or three if they are very lucky. They are worth their weight in gold.

Part of it is hard-won experience, I am sure: I’ve seen this once before. Part of it is personal dedication, studying the schematics, tracing the wiring, putting in the time. But for the real Mechanics, there is a synthesis of experience and dedication that – to a mere pilot – seems almost magical. They tell us what they think is wrong, and how to fix it. It makes perfect sense, having been told. I immediately understand. But it’s not something that I myself could do, I don’t think.

I know how to make her go. He knows how and why she does. Absurdly, I believe, I receive the better compensation.

The world simply isn’t fair.

Back To The Index 


Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Neptunus Lex

11 responses to “Not So Fast

  1. Chester

    I’ve been reading the Lexicans blog since you first put it up, and Lex’s blog for years before that. I have never seen any mention about if/when the posthumous book by “Neptunus Lex” will finally be available. What happened to it?
    Thanks for reposting Lex’s posts, keep it up. There are still plenty of good ones left to go back and get. :-)>

    • Bill Brandt

      Hi Chester

      As far as I know there are no immediate plans for a book. What I put together over the years was a sample of his postings that I thought would make a good book and this is what I have been posting

      Maybe a book will still come in the future.

      I have been compiling an index of all the post I put up over the year for easy reference for people.

      That will go up in the next couple of weeks

  2. Chester

    As I remember, the book was to be the collected posts detailing “a day in the life of an aircraft carrier.” I think there were something like 40-50 posts following a half-dozen different members of the crew, perhaps tagged as “Rhythms”. I would like to read that again. A second book with a collection of “the best of the rest” would probably be well received, also.

  3. John the Baptist

    I was working with Lex during the weeks leading up to his death about publishing the manuscript he had written. I’ve published a few books, put him in touch with my primary publisher, and they were considering going ahead with he project when he passed. When they heard the news, they elected to not go ahead with publishing it posthumously.

    I do not know what happened to this manuscript, I assume his wife has it now. Perhaps she will feel like pursuing publication at some point.

    • Bill Brandt

      John – is this the story he wrote called Rhythms? I think we have a copy of it at least in .pdf form. I am not sure the Hobbit knows anything about your efforts – but it would be nice to get something going if we are talking about the same thing…

    • John the Baptist

      Bill – If I recall correctly, it was an expanded version of Rhythms, but I did not see the manuscript itself. Also IIRC, he mentioned that he had shopped it to other publishers, including the Naval Institute Press, but I am not certain if he actually had or just discussed doing that. From briefly discussing it with my publisher at that press, the only issue they had with it was if it fit with their imprint line or not, the writing was superb. (of course!) If the Hobbit wanted to go forward with it someday, she should find the returned manuscript in a package from the Globe Pequot Press or TwoDot Press. My suggestion would be for her to contact the NIP, they might be much more amenable to publishing it now.

  4. Chester

    Thank you, John. I’ll continue to keep an eye open for it.

  5. Bill Brandt

    Thanks John – I’ll make some inquiries –

    • John the Baptist

      I finally found our correspondence about the book, here’s what Lex had to say back in 2011:


      Thank you very much for your kind words, and even more for your generous offer. When I started writing that series, it was a one-post effort which I realized took at least two posts to finish. More than a year later, I finally put an “endit” on it. Somewhere along the way it became more than just a blog post, less than publishable material, at least in my own mind.

      Shortly after completing it, I started to re-write the thing to add what I thought it lacked; characterization, mostly, and an over-arching narrative which would take it out of the “any sailor/any ship/any day” theme I was working from and make it, “this ship, this place, these people and why you should care.” The new “polish”, such as it was, lacked the grittiness of the original and it seems that characterization is not my forte.

      I shopped it around in a half-hearted way, received the usual rejection notices (nice work/niche product) got dejected and finally – I considered this “settling” – offered it to the editors at the Naval Institute, one of whom had reached out to me on the project. We had a brief discussion, I provided my latest manuscript and never heard back from him. That was back in June of this year, I think. Perhaps even earlier.

      I heard an author on NPR talking about her approach to completing a book. She said, in effect, that it was less like bringing a child into the world than sitting by a friend’s sickbed, hoping she wasn’t going to die. That’s kind of the way I feel about Rhythms, these days. Now I find myself thinking about it less and less. I put an awful lot of myself into that project.

      But if you think that Globe-Pequot might be interested, I’d be happy to provide your contacts there a copy of project so far. Happier still to learn what, if anything, might be done to rescue it from the deathbed.



  6. Pingback: Index – The Best of Neptunus Lex | The Lexicans

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