In mentoring the next generation of mechanics, we honor the privilege of maintaining aircraft.
One weekend this past May, I had the privilege of working on my friend Greg’s aircraft, a beautiful Beech Debonair. Greg’s son Zach, a recent airframe and powerplant (A&P) school graduate with an A&P mechanic certificate, was with us. Another new aviation maintenance technician entering the workforce!
Hangar as Refuge
Like Zach, I enjoy working on aircraft and turning wrenches. A nice toolbox and a clean, dry hangar with some tunes playing in the background is the perfect therapeutic escape from whatever’s dragging me down. My fellow mechanics will know what I’m talking about. Even pilots enjoy the sanctuary of their hangars, because they often end up doing more hangar flying than real flying. There’s just one difference: as a sign on my hangar wall says, “If you ain’t bleedin’, you ain’t mechanic’in’.”
Seems like I’m always gouging myself with safety wire or pinching a finger. It’s part of the challenge of working on aircraft. Engineers put the parts you have to reach the most in the smallest, most inaccessible location possible because they don’t like mechanics … at least it seems that way. You can bet your next favorite beverage that if the aircraft has a 25-hour inspection criterion, there won’t be an access panel and you’ll have to be trained by the Houdini school of contortion to get your hands where they need to be!
So with the hangar door open, the sun shining, a few airport hang-arounds hangin’ around doing what they do best—marvel at what mechanics do—Zach and I jacked up the Debbie and performed a landing gear inspection, including an operational check with a manual gear extension. After that, we flushed and serviced the landing gear struts and then asked Greg to run the aircraft for a few minutes, check some indications in the cockpit, and heat up the engine for us so we could continue our maintenance.
We did engine compression checks followed by a borescope inspection of all the cylinders and valves. At that point, I was comfortable speaking the phrase all owners of piston-powered aircraft desperately want to hear, “It’s all good with acceptable compressions, and the borescope inspection is good as well.”
Normally at that point, the owner will stop pacing the floor and stop thinking he’ll have to sell a body part to support his flying addiction.
Experience as Teacher
Zach hadn’t done this type of maintenance outside the school environment. Could he have done it without me? Possibly. But, for sure, it benefited him to have me there to coach him through the work. What we mechanics and pilots bring to the table is experience. Experience in doing a task our students haven’t done before.
I heard many years ago when I was a US Army pilot: the basic flight instructor is the pilot in command, not the unit instructor pilot. That’s a true statement. As they progress in their careers, mechanics and pilots will absorb the most lessons not from their instructors but from the people around them every day—their fellow line mechanics and line pilots.
It is such an aviation tenet that we shall mentor those starting out in the field that the FAA has memorialized it in a rule. I remember when I took the oral and practical exam for the A&P certificate some years ago, the designated maintenance examiner (DME) took his time after I passed to ensure that I understood 14 CFR 65.81 (a)(b), “General Privileges and Limitations.”
Specifically, part (a) of the rule states that “[a certificated mechanic] may not supervise the maintenance, preventive maintenance, or alteration of, or approve and return to service, any aircraft or appliance, or part thereof, for which he is rated unless he has satisfactorily performed the work concerned at an earlier date.” The point of the rule is to make sure new mechanics are supervised by experienced mechanics who’ve already demonstrated they know how to perform the task at hand.
It’s been my privilege to work on aircraft. Consider how few have earned the right to do so.
It’s also my honor to have motivated Zach, to have taught him how to jack an aircraft, do a landing gear swing, run engine compression tests, and perform a borescope inspection. (Wait—he left the hangar without bleeding. I must have missed a step!)
Zach will soon be off to begin his new career as an A&P mechanic, having already secured a position with a prominent aircraft operator.
Now, he can supervise a new mechanic on the tasks I helped him with because he meets CFR 65.81, having “satisfactorily performed the work concerned at an earlier date.”