How Having an A&P Benefitted Me Part 6

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Just a quick recap from #5.

I left Active Duty and got a job helping to set up an A&P school which was okay but wound up leaving that due to broken promises regarding pay. Joined the Colorado Air Guard and while I was doing that I went to Theological school. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with how having an A&P helped me with that school, but I really can’t come up with anything. Knowing how to set a torque wrench correctly just doesn’t help with memorizing Bible verses.

Anyway, as time progressed, I finished school and eventually needed work and in 1988 I got a call from a company called Flight International at the Newport News International Airport in Virginia. They hired me on as a Senior Mechanic working on their fleet of Lear’s and Mitsubishi MU-2’s. In fact, at the time, they were the world’s largest operator of LearJets. 40 or so and I think and 25 MU-2’s.

They had an interesting operation. The Lears were used to fly Federal Reserve Bank check, some were used to tow targets for the Navy, others were jammer/ECM aircraft for the Air Force, and some were straight luxury charter aircraft. The MU-2’s were typically used for ADIZ intercept training.

I worked doing heavy checks and line maintenance, mostly on the Lears. We also took in other work since it was a Part 145 Repair Station so I got a nice mix of other turbine powered aircraft over the next year or so. One of the people I became friends with just happened to be the company maintenance trainer and he asked if I wanted his job because he knew about my background and he wanted to move on. So off I went to become the maintenance trainer.

This position eventually went a little sideways. Initially my boss was the Director of Quality and then the company decided they needed to hire a consultant to run the Training Department, which consisted of me. She was a PhD who knew absolutely nothing about aircraft, aircraft maintenance, aviation, or the FAA. But supposedly she knew training. Personally I never saw any evidence that she even knew what training wheels were. And for whatever reason, the company assigned me to work for her and the DoQ and they both had equal authority. The unfortunate situation was that they hated each other’s guts. Literally. He was an old school misogynistic mechanic and she was a single women’s libber from NYC. Yes those are archaic terms but the language of the era. Me? Well I was the only child in a bad divorce where the parents use the kid to hurt each other. He would tell me to work one project and she would tell me to stop and work something else. Then he would tell me to only do the work he assigned and to ignore her. I was like Belgium right before WWII, stuck between France and Germany. Eventually the company had enough of their shenanigans and rather than deal with the adults they just blamed the kid and dissolved the training department. One thing that worked out well was that they had picked up two BAC 1-11 airliners to put into Part 121 operation and I was involved in building the training for those and helping to get the aircraft added to the Operating Certificate. With the abrupt shuttering of the training department, they moved me to become a flight mechanic on the BAC’s and I went to school on them and Tech Repped the aircraft through heavy check. Time for a funny story.

So we decided to do an acceptance check flight on this BAC 1-11 following heavy check at AAR in Oklahoma City. We prepped the plane and then asked if any of the AAR mechanics who had worked on the plane wanted to come with us. There were about a dozen and so we tossed everyone on board and off we went. The check flight progressed well and one of the last things we wanted to check was the fuel dump system and we found an area to orbit that was easy flying time back to the airport should the system fail. I went back to the cabin and told everyone what we were about to do and explained the system to them so that they wouldn’t be worried if we couldn’t shut the dump system off. The aircraft had standpipes in the tanks and would only dump to the tops of the pipes, thus retaining plenty of fuel for the flight should a valve or valves not close. Everyone nodded assent that they understood so back to the cockpit I went and we started dumping fuel, which was dumped out masts in the midspan of the wings, easily visible to our pax. I shut the system off after ensuring it was dumping but the right wing malfunctioned and it kept dumping. We tried a number of things to get it to shut off, but it was stuck. I went back an explained to everyone that it was no big deal and we were headed back to OKC and to strap in since we’d be landing in a few minutes.

The landing was uneventful but we closed down the OKC runway with dumped fuel. This was kinda pre-EPA days and the fire department just hosed down the runway and we taxied back on one engine. When we parked and shut the aircraft down a number of mechanics ran down the stairs and got down on the ground on their hands and knees and kissed the ground and swore that they would never fly on a plane they worked on again. I was stunned at how much it had scared them. It just wasn’t that big a deal.

There was also this one time where I used a rag on a stick to find a bleed leak while standing on the engine pylon with the engine running. That was dumb.

It wasn’t long after that when the company got rid of the BAC’s and moved me into Maintenance Control. And MOC in the civilian world is considerably different from the military one. In the civilian one you often actually troubleshoot problems and determine tasks for the mechanics. In some cases, you might even write up a complete troubleshooting plan for an ongoing intermittent gripe. I learned a lot about getting aircraft fixed in remote locations and also to not listen to pilots who had already troubleshot the problem and knew what needed to be done to fix it. 90% of the time they were wrong. If you’re still alive Russ Popejoy, you were the worst offender, and you were always wrong. Lol!

But it wasn’t all a fairy tale job in MoC. They hired a new Director of Maintenance and this guy hired his best friend to be the MoC manager. This dude was just downright incompetent. One time he gave a flight release on a plane that was overdue for an inspection by quite a few hours. When I came in and saw it I grounded the plane and got it inspected and documented everything. The next day I got called into the DoM’s office and counselled for what I had done. The main problem he had was that I had made his friend look bad and my math was wrong. When I got into the books later that day I saw that they had been doctored. Because I was competent and the manager wasn’t, it just led to more hurt feelings but the company eventually lost a lot of contracts due to mismanagement and a bunch of folks, including me, were laid off.

So it was off to looking for another job.

Next episode – restoring aircraft for a museum and a job in a nuclear physics research lab working for the Department of Energy.