Aircraft Mechanic

Aircraft Mechanic

Fred Robel

25 Years Experience

Au Gres, MI

Male, 46

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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108 Questions

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Last Answer on October 11, 2017

Best Rated

This AMA is sweet thanks! Are there meaningful differences in safety records for accredited Western airlines? Is there any concern that a budget airline like AirTran or Frontier is actually less safe than Delta or American?

Asked by Chris Hansen almost 5 years ago

There is no difference in the records or maintenance requirements for US certified air carriers. They are all held to the same high standard. Whether you are talking about the smallest mom and pop airline with a Cessna 310 as their only airplane, or American Airlines; they all have to toe a very stringent line with the FAA. I wouldn't be any more or less concerned with safety with any one airline over another.

What background or experience was required for you to start working on planes? Were you fascinated with aviation from a young age?

Asked by Jeremy B. almost 5 years ago

There are a couple different facets to that question actually. To simply work on an airplane, you need no credentials. Just good mechanical ability, and a clever mind. The caveat being that you must work under the direct supervision of a licensed aircraft mechanic. Reasoning that the licensed mechanic will be teaching you how to go about aircraft maintenence the proper way, much like an apprenticeship. Also, you cannot sign for your work as an unlicensed mechanic. And if it isn't in the paperwork or logbook, and signed for by an authorized individual, then the job isn't complete, or legal. Everything that is done to an aircraft must be documented. I have to stress that: EVERYTHING. If you replace one screw, that should be documented. With a proper installation reference from the approved maintenance manual, and signed for by a licensed mechanic. In my case; I chose to go to school to get my license. The schooling was at Lansing Community College's Aviation School, and it was treated like a part time job for all purposes. We had to punch a time clock, to document our hours (a certain number are required to be eligible for a license). And we went year round, for two years, five hours a weekday. At the end of that, I had my Airframe & Powerplant licenses. Which is called a "license to learn" around the school. And it's technically true. Because, by the FAA regs, even a licensed mechanic cannot perform any given maintenance task, until it is done under the supervision of another more experienced mechanic. I should mention, that if you were to choose to go the 'mechanic apprentice' route; that it's a 30 month path of documented On The Job training that is required. After which, you would be eligible to take the tests for both your Airframe & Powerplant license. I have tried to reason out why I chose this profession before. I never came up with a solid answer I'm sorry to say. I think it is a combination of things really. I had always been mechanical, working on my own cars and such. Airplanes are cool, obviously. And I had always thought so, attending local airshows when I could. Timing: I walked into the registrars office at the college to sign up for this career path, at a time when I had little direction in life. I had no idea what I wanted to do, and this seemed like the most appealing thing on the class listings. The following two years of courses would have weeded me out if I hadn't really enjoyed it I think.

Have you ever been part of an FAA investigation into a crash?

Asked by Zoltar almost 5 years ago

No. I never have. And I'm glad for it.

Have you heard whether they are getting anywhere sorting out the Dreamliner issues? Have the things they've found been serious, or do you still think it fell victim to media exaggerations?

Asked by Doryas over 4 years ago

I have seen where Boeing has completed the flight tests with a new and improved main battery assembly.  Which consists of taking the existing cells, adding space and insulation in between them, and installing them into a double walled 'armored' battery enclosure box; which also features improved airflow cooling.  This box is also sealed, and vented to the exterior.  So even if something happens to the battery inside, all fumes, smoke, etc will be vented outside, and be no danger to the airplane's occupants.

I think the battery issue is serious.  In as much as anything that can cause a fire on board an airplane is a serious issue.  The media did jump all over it pretty zealously; and in all fairness, they should be falling over each other to give equal coverage to this improved battery system that is almost ready for certification.

The battery issue is the only really serious issue that I've read about.  Fuel seepage, and whatever else there was, are really just teething problems typical of new aircraft in general. Those issues will be dealt with as well as a matter of course.

I read that United Airlines is scheduling a return to service for the 787 for June 2013.  With the assumption that the FAA will release the aircraft for flight by then.  

Research the problems that Tesla Motors had with their Roadster model electric sports car; as far as battery overheating and fires.  The batteries used in that car were also of the Lithium Ion type, and very similar problems were encountered to the Boeing 787 situation.  There was a lot of knowledge learned with those problems years ago.  I'm actually pretty disappointed that Boeing did not avail themselves of those lessons learned.

Is it the LAW that pilots have to inform passengers when a delay is due to a mechanical problem? I've been on several flights where that happened and just thought 'I really don't want to hear that, why didn't they just tell me it was a storm system?'

Asked by Chris almost 5 years ago

Now, I won’t cheat and try to find out before I answer, though I may afterwards. I am not aware of any law or regulation that commands a flight crew to be 100% honest about flight delays with their passengers. It may be an airline policy, or just that particular crew being honest. It shouldn’t upset you, other than the fact that you are delayed. There will be no "baling wire and duct tape" repairs going on just to get you out of the gate; trust me. Either it will get fixed right in a certain time period while you sit there, or they will deplane you and make other plans. Really it’s a common thing to have last minute problems. Usually they are not flight critical and can be deferred, such as a light burned out, or a climate control not keeping the inside temp right. Other things, like a tire or brake change, or a scheduled maintenance that just ended up taking a few extra minutes, is all that it is. You know how it can be; the second you tell someone that a certain simple job will take a half hour to do, that’s when Murphy’s Law kicks in and makes something a little harder. All in all, I’d rather the airline was honest with me about such things. That way you know you can trust them about other things, which may be more important for you to know. :)

I know that planes are built to withstand lightning strikes, but will they get an automatic mechanical checkup immediately after a flight where that happens? My girlfriend says her plane got struck and it made the whole thing jolt and dive suddenly.

Asked by d_firestone1 over 4 years ago

Well, I can tell you what we do at my current company.

If it's reported that the airplane has sustained a lightning strike, or when someone finds lightning burns on the aircraft; a lightning check is made to find the extent of any damage.  We do this in accordance with the appropriate aircraft maintenance manual.

In general, a lightning strike check has three parts:

1- Examine the external surfaces for lightning strike

2- Examinine the internal components for lightning strike

3- Inspection and operational check of the radio and navigation systems

It's actually quite an extensive process.  

I've found some interesting looking burns on airplanes sometimes.  Often looking like arc spot welds on the aluminum skin, or burn marks with delamination on the composite structure.

It's all fairly safe though.  The planes are bonded and structure ground strapped together so that electricity will flow through the structure and back out at some point.  

So usually when an airplane gets hit by lighting, there will be a point of contact mark, as well as an exit mark where the electricity came back out.

What do you see as the future of air travel? Are planes going to get bigger, faster, or more fuel efficient? Aren't we going to HAVE to find new technologies before we run out of oil?

Asked by Sam almost 5 years ago

I don't know really. But if I were to speculate, first I'd say that airplanes probably won't get much bigger. The A380 and B747 are pretty darn big, and pretty much push the limit of our existing infrastructure. I also don't know that I'd like to see that many people up in the air at the same time in one plane. I think we'll see faster airplanes, when the engineers get the sonic boom suppression issue licked. Once that happens, we'll start to see things like the Concorde in action again I hope. Fuel efficiency will improve, as a matter of course I think. That's one of the big selling points for the aircraft and engine manufacturers to talk about. We haven't hit the wall on the limits of the turbine engine yet I don't think. Pratt & Whitney with their new Geared Fan technology is just starting to go in a new direction commercially. I think it might be the next big thing for aircraft engines. To address new tech for an oil deprived future? I believe that companies like GE, Rolls Royce, and Pratt & Whitney (among others) are already working on that. It isn't out in the public eye yet though. I would theorize on an all electric ducted fan engine if it were me. Most of the current advanced turbofan's thrust is generated by the bypass air, that never even goes though the combustion core of an engine. Replacing the internal combustion turbine altogether is a natural next step. Battery and/or electrical generation technology is the biggest hurdle to this next step right now. I think air travel has an exciting future. There will be problems along the way, there always are. I hope I get to see what's in store.