What to Expect as an Aircraft Mechanic
Becoming an aircraft mechanic can be a daunting task. You may have questions as to what to expect on the actual job when you finally get your A&P license. You are not alone in your concern about your new job. Most aircraft mechanics were in the same boat when they started out. The good thing is that most employers will teach you what you need to know for the most part. All you need to bring is some common sense and your mechanical abilities. Oh, and maybe your tools too.
All Things Need Maintenance
All things mechanic need some sort of maintenance. Moving things create friction and eventually wear out. The idea behind aviation maintenance is to find the issues before they become a problem.
As for things like automobiles and other mechanic devices, often times they do not get “maintained” until something actually breaks. Even though these items may have a manufacturers recommendation for scheduled maintenance, it often gets over looked. My car is probably the most neglected car in Michigan. I only give it attention when it breaks, but some how it keeps on ticking, which reminds me that I need to change my oil like 2000 miles ago.
Not so in aviation. We are bound to those pesky manufacturer recommendations by FARs, or regulations. Particularly if you are working for a 121 or 135 operator. These maintenance procedures must be followed or still fines can be imposed by the FAA. It is also job security for us mechanic types.
Your Tasks as an Aircraft Mechanic
Aircraft mechanics generally have three types of maintenance functions to perform on aircraft.
- Unscheduled maintenance. Something breaks unexpectedly. The aircraft mechanic must troubleshoot the problem and fix it by following the manufacturers procedures for the repair or replacement of components.
- Scheduled inspections. Inspections can either be based on flight hours or calender time. Companies may also create an Approved Aircraft Inspection Program (AAIP) which can restructure the manufacturers inspection criteria to fit the needs of the operator.
- Special inspections. These inspections follow a specific event. Such as a hard landing or engine over-temp. Many aircraft maintenance manuals have a section in the manual for these types of inspections. It is good to be familiar with this section so that if an event occurs, you will have a heads-up that there may be a maintenance action required.
As an aircraft mechanic, the most common type of work you will perform in many cases is scheduled inspections. That is because in aviation, we are trying to correct any issues before they become a problem. In order for many of the aircraft to get approval from the FAA, they must have a detailed inspection criteria for the entire aircraft. Again, job security.
So much of your time as an aircraft mechanic is not necessarily fixing airplanes but only inspecting them. Taking things a part, removing components, inspecting, and then reinstalling everything the way it should be. It is critical to always reassemble things in the correct manner and always follow the manufacturers maintenance manual. There also may be a functional or operational check required after the maintenance is performed. I find this part of the job to be boring. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like taking things a part, but I’d take things apart that are broken, and find the problem. You know, the smoking gun.
Troubleshooting systems on aircraft can also be challenging for new aircraft mechanics because of the unfamiliarity of the systems on board. While newer aircraft are much more technically advanced, they also do not break down as much as some of the older models. This means that an aircraft mechanic may not get as much experience dealing with the various issues that they would have gotten with an older aircraft. Lets face it, it would be nice if every employer purchased new aircraft every 10 years but that probably won’t happen, so don’t count on it. The one good thing about older aircraft is that they need lots of “attention” and that will give you valuable experience.
There is no replacement for experience on the airframe. This is why employers are always looking to fill positions with experienced mechanics first. So don’t be afraid to dive in and learn as much as you can about the aircraft and it’s subsystems any chance you can. Reading the theory of operations in the maintenance manual is a good place to start for information.
Repair or Overhaul Shops
It is possible that you could, as an aircraft mechanic get a job at an overhaul facility. In which case you will still have the same type inspections but they may be more in depth because of the nature of the overhaul. For instance, for a scheduled inspection, you may actually be measuring the limits of something rather than just a general checking for obvious defects.
Overhaul shops typically receive an aircraft component from an outside source, clean it, tear it down and measure everything to manufacture specs. Often times in-service measurement limits are much greater than overhaul limits. Out of limit items get replaced or repaired per manufacturer recommendations.
145 repair shops are a great way to get experience within the aviation industry since you do not always need an A&P license. Some shops may even hired aircraft mechanic students.
Another great thing about repair shops are that they aren’t necessarily at the airport. If you cannot find a typical aircraft mechanic job, look around for overhaul shops near you. You may be surprised by what you find.
Building Confidence as an Aircraft Mechanic
In the beginning you will have little confidence in your abilities. After all, an aircraft is a complex machine and there is a lot at stake if you screw something up. I will tell you this though, the more you do, the more you will eventually build up your confidence. You will always make mistakes in this field, no one is perfect. As aircraft mechanics, we have to look out for each other for the sake of safety. I always get in a habit of someone else looking at my work when I am completed. It makes me feel better and helps me sleep at night because simple mistakes can be dangerous.
Being a confident aircraft mechanic also means knowing your limits. Just because you are an expert in one area, does not mean you have to appear to be an expert in another area. Don’t be afraid to tell someone you do not know something. I would rather people assume I was an idiot and surprise them later rather than the other way around.
Today I feel pretty confident in my abilities but every once in awhile I will have a very humbling experience. This is good for any professional aircraft mechanic because it forces us out of our comfort zones and allows us to acknowledge a problem and correct it. Lets face it, we all make mistakes. Some are easy to own up to while others, well, lets just say are better left unsaid.
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