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.