I'm a licensed Aircraft Mechanic & Inspector with twenty-plus years in the field. I've had a varied career so far, with time spent in the sheetmetal, mechanic, and inspection specialties. Most of my time is on heavy Boeing and McDonnell Douglas aircraft, of the passenger, cargo, and experimental type. This career isn't for everyone, but I enjoy it.
Please do NOT ask me to troubleshoot problems with your airplane, that is not what this Q&A is for.
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The best part of my job, to me, is when you get the chance to take an old airplane out of desert storage, clean it, fix it, repurpose it, and roll it out to send it off flying, looking and performing like a brand new airplane. Kind of like that Overhaulin’ television show. The worst part is hard to pin down. There are lots of parts of this job that aren’t the best. Though they are the parts that tend to morph into the best stories later on. Dealing with any part of the hydraulic systems where you get fluid all over the place, and yourself, is pretty bad. Skydrol hydraulic fluid is wicked nasty stuff to play with. It has a drying chemical in it (which keeps water out of the systems) that doesn’t play well with human skin, and mucus membranes. Basically touch any part of your body with it, and it feels like it’s burning (eyes, mouth, genitals are the worst). Very hard to clean off too. Cleaning some of the hard to reach places on planes isn’t very fun either. Just imagine all the oils, greases, dirt, bird and bug parts, etc that can collect in an airplane’s crevices. It’s yucky. But, it is kind of rewarding to see the clean area afterwards, so it isn’t all bad. Overall, I guess the historically unstable job situation for most aircraft mechanics may be the worst. I’ve been lucky so far, in that I’ve pretty much worked at essentially three places. Eight years at first, then the company went bankrupt. Then eight more years, before that company closed their location. Now, with a couple stutters in the beginning, I’ve been where I am at for about three years. A lot of aircraft mechanics are essentially aviation gypsies. Going from job to job every six months to a year, zig zagging across the country. The holy grail used to be to get in with one of the major airlines. But even that isn’t the sure thing it used to be. The American dream of working for one place for 30 years or so, and retiring; is kind of not a thing most aircraft mechanics can aspire to anymore.
This is common on small to medium sized airplanes, when they are not very full flights. Mostly for weight and balance purposes. Airplanes are happiest when most of the weight is near the center of gravity, which is usually near the midpoint of the wing, going fore and aft. Smaller airplanes are more sensitive to this than large ones.
Obviously, these are problems that Boeing needs to figure out. With the new type of batteries in use on the 787 and it’s accompanying all electrical systems, I would have thought that overheating and battery fires of this nature wouldn’t be happening. If I were Boeing, I’d root out the cause of each of these incidents, and (rightfully) expect the media to share the results with the same zeal that they’ve shown in reporting the initial headline incidents. It is my hope, that these issues are the result of people interacting and maintaining the systems incorrectly, due to the newness of them. I rather hope it isn’t any inherent flaws in the design of the systems. But, with airlines grounding their fleet of 787’s, a definite Boeing solution to what is going on will have to happen, and soon. And yes, I do think that the media is over reporting the 787 things. Which is unfortunate, because that is what people will remember for years after these initial problems are fixed. Not the thousands of safe flight hours that will occur afterwards. I’ll refer people again to avherald.com for a list of things happening every day, around the world, to other airplanes. There were several in flight engine shut downs in the last week, did the media report on those as hard as the 787 stuff? There were a couple instances of smoke, and/or debilitating fumes in aircraft in the last week other than the 787 stuff, but I didn’t see huge media coverage on that either. It’s like everything else in the news, and for now, 787 is the flavor of choice.
To be honest, I’m not sure. I haven’t worked in any ex-Soviet countries. The few people I’ve met from them, that were aviation people, seemed very competent at their craft. Above average actually in my opinion, simply because they were used to doing so much with so little in the way of equipment and supplies. I’m not sure why the older Soviet airliners had such a bad safety reputation. I know the build quality wasn’t up to Western standards. their jet engines had to be overhauled three times as often as an equivalent engine from the West. Maybe it was the materials used, the engineering. I am not sure. I do know that their stuff is getting better, with a rise in dependability, and a safer flight record. So that’s good. :)
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My typical workday, currently as an inspector, consists of showing up on time; getting a basic turnover on the hot projects of the evening; checking in with all the work crews to show my face and let them know where I'll be if they need me; and then spending most of the night with the most important project that I find. Sometimes it's a "shakedown" of an aircraft fresh into our Repair Station, to find any issues with the areas that are on our inspection task cards. Other times, it will be working with our maintenance people on their ongoing projects, making sure everything is going together as it should be, proper techniques and materials are being used, and buying back the working steps and/or finished task cards. If you mean what does the average aircraft mechanic do; I can answer that too. The average aircraft mechanic who is working on an aircraft that is flying every day, or on different aircraft that come in and out every day; will have plenty to do, always. When the plane first lands, the flight crew should be debriefed to find out any issues with the airplane, and that they are written up properly before the aircrew departs to the hotel. Then a basic walkaround is performed, to look for issues with the airframe and engines. Then there is often servicing, like fuel load, engine oils, tire pressures, lav servicing, oxygen, potable water, etc. The items that are not routine always effect that typical routine though. Depending on how they need to be addressed. Some things can be verified, and simply deferred until the plane has some downtime. Other things must be worked right away, and fixed. On a regularly working airplane, there is always something that needs tending to.
Yes, once. We were launching a Boeing 747, and the crew was all on board, engines started. We unplugged our headset after wishing them a good flight, and were driving away in the truck. I heard the air motors for the leading edge flaps go off as they were extended, and it made me turn my head to watch. It was then that I saw that one of the sections of extended leading edge, between the number three and four engine, had not extended properly. One of the two arm mechanisms on that section had seized up halfway out, and as a result, the section was full out on half of it, and only half on the other, with the structure all twisted and broken in between. The plane had already started taxiing, and we had to radio them to stop, because something was broken. If it had been missed, and the aircraft had taken off, it could have caused a problem. Parts could have been ripped off in flight, damaging the aircraft further, or even causing sections of leading edge flap to jam in the 'out' position; creating a dangerous asymetrical flight characteristic. That was the only time I caught something right before flight.
I think the new Mitsubishi Regional Jet is going to be a pretty fun aircraft. Most of it's manufacturing tech is fairly standard, but the powerplants will be the first commercial use of the new Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan engines, the PW1000G series. I have little experience with Mitsubishi aircraft, excepting some light line maintenance on some MU-2 models. And for what it's worth, I though those were very well made aircraft. And good looking to boot! As far as competing against Boeing and Airbus: From what I'm seeing as far as specs, it is supposed to be a 70 to 90 seat aircraft, which puts it below the market for the smallest of the B737's and A318's. They start to come into play somewhere around 120 seats or so. The MRJ will be competing directly with the Bombardier CRJ's and the Embraer E series jets. And seeing as how the MRJ is a brand new design, with the latest and greatest tech engines on the wing, I think it should do very well in it's market. Providing it's purchase price is competitive, and operating costs are low.
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