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

Is there a particular aircraft you work on that you consider to be the best made / most sturdy?

Asked by smittay_101 almost 5 years ago

The best made/most sturdy award goes, hands down, to the Douglas DC-8 series aircraft. I have never worked on a more overbuilt, Mack Truck of an airplane.

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.

Are you ever called upon to fix or examine things mid-flight? Put another way, are there some things that can only be diagnosed while the plane's in motion?

Asked by passingthoughts over 4 years ago

Yes, sometimes you do. Often it is just something common, that you could do anywhere, such as a stuck drawer in the galley units or a broken coffee maker. Sometimes there can be an engine or a system test that needs to be done at altitude during flight for one reason or another. Usually for troubleshooting an elusive problem.

Are you responsible for ALL mechanical aspects of the plane, or do airplane mechanics have specialties?

Asked by Django almost 5 years ago

In general, the larger the place you work, the more specialized the people and teams tend to get. Avionics people doing the electronic stuff, sheetmetal doing all the sheetmetal work, mechanics doing all the mechanical stuff, etc. If you work for a smaller place, or are out on your own at a remote outstation, or as a ride on mechanic; it is possible that you would have to do whatever task pops up. As an AOG/Ride on mechanic in the past, I’ve had to do a tire change, troubleshoot a fuel quantity problem, and perform a small sheetmetal repair; all in the same day, same plane, by myself. This would tend to be more common on smaller aircraft as well, as they tend to be privately owned, or operated by smaller organizations. Some mechanics do work only in specialties. Sometimes a mechanic will only have the Airframe portion of his/her A&P license, and they can only officially work on structures and associated systems. Same for someone with only a Powerplant license; they can only work on engines and their systems (typically defined as anything on the engine side of the firewall). There are also people who never work anything except Avionics, seats, painting and such. The typical person with an A&P (Airframe & Powerplant) license, is expected to be more of a ‘jack of all trades’ when it comes to aircraft. And mechanics that can actually perform as such, are valuable to have around.

Have you ever suspected a pilot was drunk before his flight and what's protocol if that happens?

Asked by Samsson almost 5 years ago

I’ve never had to deal with that situation. If something like that were to happen, companies have plans in place to deal with it. Without looking at my current company handbook (I will after I answer so it isn’t cheating); I would call Crew Scheduling, or Maintenance Control, tell them what is going on, and do whatever they advised me to do. We have on site safety department personnel at several locations, and arrangements at outstations, which can provide for a breathalyzer, or other tests. Those people would be called in I imagine, to test the pilot. Certainly never let someone in that condition fly the plane.

Hi Fred, my name is Simon, Ive had my A&P license for 2 years without a job, reason being i was arrested when I was younger, not a felony or anything but its still giving me problems getting hired. Are there any secondary jobs for a person with a A&P

Asked by Simon over 4 years ago

Hello Simon.  I'm sorry to hear you are having a hard time finding a job.  

For what it's worth; I currently work with many people who also have non-felony legal issues in their past, as well as a few with felonies (albeit from long ago at this point).  Perhaps you are applying to the wrong places?  Try looking on jsfirm.com , as well as your local job resources; for aviation contracting openings.  STS, TSI Aerospace, Aerotek, and many other companies specialize in filling temporary, and long term, aviation maintenance needs for their clients.  And often they are willing to take on people with more serious issues than you describe, as long as they are willing to perform.  Obviously, you would have to be willing to work in a wide range of locations possibly, on off shifts, on the crappy jobs.  

But if you pay your dues, and build up a good work history with these types of places; your legal history will start to fade in it's importance, I assure  you.

As far as secondary type jobs; be looking for anything that uses the core skills of the aircraft mechanic.  Such as welding, hydraulics, electrical, machining, sheetmetal work, quality assurance.  Lots of places understand the value of what the A&P stands for in these types of jobs.  

In A&P school, years ago, we were told that places like Disney World, MGM studios, etc; held A&P mechanics in high regard when hiring to maintain their equipment in their theme parks.  As you can imagine, many of your aircraft maintenance skills would be applicable in a place like that.

Some extra food for thought; you were probably taught basic troubleshooting techniques in A&P school.  Work on those, hone them.  Believe it or not, there are few people that can actually apply those skills in real life effectively.  And those that can, are sought after once it is shown that they can do so.  

I am confident you will find something if you are willing.  Try to keep your chin up.

Why don't more planes have power outlets? Everyone has gadgets to plug in. Is it really that hard to add outlets to a plane that already has enough power to fly through the stratosphere?

Asked by JOE over 4 years ago

I know the older planes (made 2000 and earlier), weren't made for a public with so many gadgets they'd love to keep charged. I can't speak for new ones, as I haven't set foot on a passenger plane newer than a '90's model. As for adding them. Yes, that could be done. There are already several standard power outlets on most planes, for the use of the cleaning crews at the airports. Also, I've seen regular outlets in the bathrooms before. So the process of having them isn't unknown to airlines. Maybe the airlines don't want to deal with yet another system to maintain. Or the cost of installing a modification like that. It isn't as simple as just saying "Hey, I'm going to do that". The modification has to be sent through engineering, vetted by them, then submitted to the FAA for approval. It's a lengthy process to get something like that approved for installation and use on a public carrier aircraft. I lean towards the reason of not wanting to deal with the extra system. Especially one which the general public can get their hands on all the time. Most people are responsible, and won't break the outlets, or plug in anything strange, or use damaged equipment. But there are always the few that ruin it for the rest of us. It wouldn't surprise me if there weren't already First Class seating with USB and 115Volt outlets built into them. If it's viable, it will trickle down into Business, and then Coach classes someday. The way airlines are pinching their pennies these days, I wouldn't hold my breath though.

edit 2/8/2015: You would have been safe to hold your breath actually. I'm seeing more and more airlines offering USB charging ports to their customers, built right into their seats. As a matter of fact; last year a customer at the place where I work, put in an entire new interior system into their B777's, with fancy backseat touchscreens, and power outlets for each individual seat, front to back.

I am very pleased to have been wrong with my prediction. I love gadgets on airplanes.