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Friday, January 27, 2012

Zen and the Art of Aircraft Maintenance




Pilot’s maintenance write-up:  “Something loose in the cockpit.”
Mechanic’s corrective action:  “Something tightened in the cockpit.”
If you’re any kind of aviation buff, you’ve most likely seen this and other gems in a popular email of funny aircraft maintenance write-ups.  If not, I’ll take that as an excuse to plagiarize a few more here for your pleasure.
Squawk: “Aircraft handles funny."
Corrective Action:  “Aircraft told to straighten up, 'fly right,' and be serious."
Maintenance write-ups, or “Squawks” in pilot parlance, are a daily occurrence for pilots.  When you’re trying to keep safely in the sky a man-made bird with a million parts, well, that means a million and one things can go wrong.  Fortunately, a century’s progress in aircraft design has rendered modern airliners extremely safe; failures of the catastrophic kind are nearly unheard of.  But hassles of the minor and mundane kind, the equivalent of the knob popping off the radio in your ’03 Prius, are an every day occurrence.  While you may be able to live without that knob (I’ve been using the remote control in my ’98 Celica for the past year), every single airliner’s maintenance issue, no matter how trivial, must be addressed before flight.



Squawk: “Number Three Engine missing.”
Corrective Action:  “Number Three Engine found on right wing after brief search.”
But you wouldn’t want to delay, let alone cancel, a flight for, say, a broken toilet seat.
Enter the MEL, or Minimum Equipment List.  The FAA allows airliners to hurtle through the stratosphere with myriad broken parts, such as toilet seats, until those minor bits can be fixed while overnighting at a maintenance base. 



Squawk: “Mouse in radio stack.”
Corrective Action:  “Cat installed in radio stack.”
You know how, when you take your Prius to the mechanic, that “whee whee whee” sound it was making suddenly fixes itself?  Same thing happens on a plane.  (“But I swear, Frank, that radio was going ‘screeeech!’ a minute ago!”)  There's nothing more frustrating to a pilot than receiving as a Corrective Action:  "Could not duplicate; returned to service."  Worse, I’ve had my share of rookie squawks based on my lack of intimate knowledge of the airplane.  (“Uh, lady, that ‘chunk chunk chunk’ you’re hearing and feeling is called a ‘flat tire’.”)  Once, fresh on the Airbus, I wrote up the APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) when I couldn’t get it to start—only to find out that you had to first turn on the Batteries to help power it up.  Uh . . . duh!  Now, after over 18 years on the Bus, I’m more than comfy on “Fifi’s” flight deck, though she still finds little ways to rise up and make me humble again .  That APU write-up, for example, is not just for rookies.  Even vets fall for it from time to time, when the Starbucks across from the gate hasn't opened yet.
Er, um. . . so I’m told...

Squawk: “Evidence of hydraulic leak on right main landing gear."
Corrective Action:  “Evidence removed."
For the hi-tech Airbus, 90% of my squawks are quickie fixes.  Reset a couple circuit breakers, do a quick byte test, and you're off and running.  But little things often do have the habit of snowballing into big things.  Hence the perpetually frustrating “another ten minutes and we’ll be underway” PA you hear a dozen times before actual door close.  All we pilots know is what our mechanics tell us, so please don’t kill the messenger.  And please, please, please don’t take it out on the flight attendants, either!  They’ve had a long day, too, and wanna get there just as badly as you do.  We’re all in this boat together.
Squawk: “Dead bugs on windshield."
Corrective Action:  “Live bugs on order."
While we all have our airline delay horror stories, my personal record was eight hours—count ‘em, eight!—hours stuck on on the plane , doors closed, on the tarmac in EWR.*  While our original maintenance delay only put us back 30 minutes, it was just long enough to ground-stop all traffic as a slow-moving wall of thunderstorms leisurely strolled overhead.  Our flight took off four minutes before our “drop-dead” time (i.e., max legal duty time) expired.  And then came the five hour flight to LAS.

Squawk: “Test flight OK, except autoland very rough."
Corrective Action:  “Autoland not installed on this aircraft."
So, your ace mechanics swooped in on the plane and did their magic.  You’re all patched up and ready to launch, right?!  Well, not exactly.   Just like the picture above, no flight is ready until the paperwork is done.  While a C/B reset might take two minutes, the paperwork takes at least ten.  For, close on the heels of the airline pilot’s mantra of “Safety First,” is “Charlie Yankee Alpha—Cover Your A**.”  The FAA can smell a dubious paper trail from FL390, so it is imperative that that toilet seat’s Green Card is filled out in triplicate, “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed, signed and stamped by the mechanic, entered into the memory banks and approved by  Maintenance Control back at Company HQ, and sent via ACARS message (a fancy term for onboard email) to the cockpit.  After that, the Company dispatcher must amend the flight manifest to include the broken toilet seat, calculate its aerodynamic effects on fuel burn, and ACARS that to the cockpit as well, where it must, ultimately, be christened as safe by the Captain.  
God forbid a poor, unsuspecting passenger sit down in the lav and suffer the consequences!

Squawk: “Whining sound heard on engine shutdown."
Corrective Action:  “Pilot removed from aircraft."


  • Click here for more funny squawks!

*This incident took place years before the “Passenger Bill of Rights” was passed.  One poor couple onboard missed their own Vegas wedding, and sheepishly asked if the Captain of the Ship could perform the ceremony onboard.
Oh, how I wish I had!
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30 comments:

  1. Hello Cap'n aux!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    So..oook.......this is my first visit here to your lovely blog............think I'll do a little window shopping..........and also, to welcome you to Bas's "Name that tail"....forum...............
    I tell ya..........that game is so much fun.........after each hunt........I need 5 days off for rest.......ha ha....anyway...

    These cartoons...............LOLOLOL....
    So good to look on the lighter side of life......

    misstwa/getjets/Jules
    Take care Cap'n............!!!

    and if you will pardon.............I have some paperwork to fill out.............Eshhhhhhhhhhh:))))))))

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Getjets/MissTWA/Jules!
    Thanks for stopping by! I'm discovering the joys of Bas's site now, and OMG, MissTWA looks awesome! I'll get ya up on the blogroll, and looking forward to your posts!!
    -Cap'n :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. PS--Get that paperwork done in triplicate, Missy!

      Delete
  3. Very funny post, Cap'n.
    You're right, I enjoyed it very much! :) :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh I did chuckly a few times Cap'n, those are classic! Very imformative to the public explaining MX and MEl's. I'll get around to adding you to my blog roll, and plan on a new post soon!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks Craig, looking forward to your new post!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Cap.........You do realize filling paperwork out in triple............ah........3 times the "Carbon footprint"..............OH I'm so there.............LOL(i think)....!!!!!!!

    "plagiarize"........Yes......you mean......."steal".......I do it all the time.............
    hoping you don't post a new too soon.............I like to take my time.............;))))))))))
    not to be confused with telling you what to do..............kinda...Kidding.....
    Safe Travel Captain............
    later....
    with out sounding like a 'suck up'....your blog.......is a very nice Travel.........
    always trying to rack up my 'frequent flyer'.......:)))))))
    Thanks for the funnies............
    Of course flying is Serious business............I do not lose sight...........
    BUT.... there's always room for some smartypants............ha ha
    just may be enough to get their attention...........
    misstwa

    ReplyDelete
  7. Squawk: “Dead bugs on windshield."

    Corrective Action: “Live bugs on order."

    JUST REPLACE THE BUGS........FOR CHRIST'S SAKES.................
    reference................"dumbass company manual"....so I heard............

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bwahahaha!
      Ya gonna shoot for about 1/week post; should be reasonable. Just pumping it up at 1st to get the ball rolling…got a lot to say, tho!! (But Not like you, I see, LOL!!)

      I'm curious about your connex w/TWA…..?

      Delete
    2. Teaser: Next blog title: "Artful Zen Redux: Zen and the Art of…" (subject classified, lol!)

      Delete
    3. Capt says....."I wrote up the APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) when I couldn’t get it to start"

      misstwa asks....."so the APU's arent' like lawnmowers....no pullrope start".....mmmmmmmmm

      OK......I was a machinists for 26 years.......and I know from persoanl experience.........that just BRANDISHING A RUBBER MALLOT......can work...:)))))

      capt says........ "every single airliner’s maintenance issue, no matter how trivial, must be addressed before "BEFORE FLIGHT."


      misstwa says.........."WHAT AN "EFFIN"(ooh sorry) RELIEF"

      Capt says............"We’re all in this """BOAT""" together."
      misstwa says.........."AAAAAAAAAaHHHHhhhhh.....and they let you have your Pilots license for jetplanes.right???.........Jeeeez...LOL

      Captain Eric(assmuming ok...to call you by).......I am just a joshing away with you........so don't go getting your feelings hurt............and file a 'class action law suit.......

      So much funny..............and not enough time.......without running the risk......of making a complete azz of myself..........

      Safe Travels Captain.....whether my boat(eshh).....or Plane.........LOL

      you take care
      misstwa

      Delete
    4. LMAO!!

      Hey, if the great Captain Malcomb Reynolds can call his ship a "boat," so can I!

      Delete
    5. AS LONG AS IT'S NOT A "BANNANA" BOAT.............THEN YOU GOOD.......:)
      ....

      Delete
    6. My connection.....to TWA Airline's......
      I grew up in St. Louis area....during the lovely days of the "Legacy" Airline's.....

      when traveling was the occasion and not the destination........ya know.....there was the best jetspotting place at Lambert....
      TWA was a way of life....Like Family....not to sound too melo-dramatic.....

      when I moved to New Orleans....Flew TWA and Ozark Airline's....for those back and forth visits....STL-MSY....with a flight plan..usually following the lovely Mississippi river as well....

      When TWA was thrown under the bus...so to speak.........I was crushed....!!!....
      it's hard to put into words........and at risk of sounding silly......TWA was so much more than just an Airline........for thousands.......who lost their jobs.....and being a part of something really Grand!!!!!...

      so there you have it....some ways.......A Love Story.....for something you can't even touch.........just feel.....
      Hence my blog's name...........
      "MissTWA"....because I really do "MissTWA" Airline's........
      Safe Travels in the week Captain Eric.......

      I appreciate your asking,..........very much........

      Delete
    7. Yes, it SUCKED to lose them. I've a great buddy who changed careers mid-life, defied the odds and got on to TWA …only to be furloughed in the merger! What a biz…

      The only good that came out of it was that it prompted Congress to pass the McCaskill-Bond act requiring a fair merging of any future seniority lists..too late for TWA, unfortunately.

      TWA was a classy airline…like Pan Am…

      Delete
    8. YES.......TOO LATE FOR TWA
      .......WAIT........THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS A FAIR MERGER........STILL MEANS GETTING IN LINE..WITHOUT THE FREEDOM OF "RIGHT OF WAY".....

      Delete
  8. Another great post! Love reading 'm all. Never seen the cartoons before so those made me laugh! I've seen a 737 MEL and it's amazing what can go wrong but won't affect flight or delay too much.

    Have you ever seen funny squawks in the log books? I can imagine after quite some years in the air!?

    Regards,

    Bas

    ReplyDelete
  9. Good to see you back, Bas!

    Mainly the funny write-ups I've seen are when I write something up…only to realize it's working, lol! Then Mx has to make some smartass reply in the Corrective Action! Guess I should also add in here the perpetually frustrating, "Could not duplicate--return to service" reply we often get!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Cap'n Aux,

    A lovely blog - I found you via the equally excellent Bas! Don't burn yourself out too early, you obviously have a lot of great material stored up!

    My longest delay? 51 hours and 15 minutes in the Maldives in 2006, yeah, I can hear how sorry everyone is for me! Dodgy engine bleed valve on the B763 so I heard....

    Keep up the great work!

    Dave from the UK

    ReplyDelete
  11. Good advice, Cap'n Dave. Welcome aboard! I understand you used to have a blog but don't really know your "back story." Email me some time!

    51 hours in the Maldives doesn't sound too bad…but I'm sure it sucked for you, lol!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Thanks, Speedbird103! Check back in--I got more!!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I love the saying “No job is finished until the PAPERWORK is done”. Just like jetgets, I think it’s also time for me to do some window shopping. Been here for 30 minutes and I’m enjoying my stay.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Good Information. The Maintenance of aircraft is a comprehensive, ongoing process. The entire aircraft needs to be examined, maintained, and have the necessary parts replaced to uphold the safety standards mandated by the FAA. Aircraft are required to be maintained after a certain period of calender time or flight hours or flight cycles.

    ReplyDelete
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