Tool Check: Aircraft Maintenance Ground School
The trick was to balance on the front wheel, in just the right position, to gain access to the rear of the bulkhead that held the canopy selector valve. This task was accomplished in the cold rain, with MIL-H-5606 dripping down your face, while your buddies kicked your leg, yelling, “Hurry up, we eat in 15 minutes.
There’s a reason line maintenance is a younger game. I was in my early twenties, a little lithe, a little thinner, and just cocky enough to think I could get the faulty valve out before the car left for lunch.
The trick to working blind is to go ahead and close your eyes. They can’t help you, and some say that eliminating one sense strengthens the others. I had to rely solely on touch. The valve is behind a bulkhead, angled inboard and out of reach when standing flat on deck. Perched precariously on the front wheel, reaching behind me, working my hand up the hydraulic line, I miraculously reached the B-Nut. Congratulations, now how the hell do I get the thing off? I can barely reach it, let alone loosen it. How can I delete it? This mission looks like a job for a Crowfoot.
What is a crowbar? For those eagerly heading straight to Google, click on the tool link. Not the Siksika Native American chief of the same name. A crowbar looks like someone cut the end of a combination wrench with a hole to accept a ratchet drive. Well, kinda like that. It is an open-end wrench, which incorporates a means of attaching an extension. Perfect for hard-to-reach areas with minimal moving space, like the front wheel well of an A-6E Intruder.
A crowbar is a specialized tool designed, designed and produced for a specific purpose to reach where a wrench cannot.
Toolkits are personal
Some mechanics make do with a basic tool kit, adapting their style and improving their skills to get by. Others are heading in the opposite direction and outfitting their arsenal with every whiz-bang tool known to mankind. These people must have a very different tool budget than mine. Some toolboxes are huge and incorporate speakers, lights and independent suspension with anti-lock brakes. While they pack an impressive array of tools, is it worth buying and maintaining something you’ll only use once every five years?
You don’t have to go broke to equip your collection of shed tools. Start with the basics and expand as needed.
My tool collection started in high school when my brother and I received tool sets for Christmas one year. The black toolbox had a lid that lifted and three drawers that extended from the front. For a teenager, it was as close to a rite of passage as I was going to get. I still have a lot of tools today.
A necessary first lesson
Recently, we discussed the importance of procuring, receiving and installing approved aircraft parts. The next step in our pursuit of aircraft maintenance sustainability is tooling. Airplane maintenance goes far beyond fuel and takeoff. Remember those early days of ground school? The introduction to terms such as pitch, roll and yaw was forced on you before you set foot on the ramp. Paperwork, parts and tools are the basic school of aircraft maintenance. If you get a logbook entry wrong, it could cost you dearly.
The tools work like everything needed in everyday life. There are entry-level beginner sets, mid-level professional options, and complete custom sets with Bombardier-style financing required. If you have to ask how much, you can’t afford it. Mechanics are hyper protective of their tools because they make their living from them. My rig has had its ups and downs, and after 10 years at the mercy of my techs in the engine shop, let’s just say I have a few gaps in my offering.
So, ultimately, what should you do when equipping your inventory with aircraft-grade tools? I’m glad you asked this question. Just like a preflight, we have a checklist. My alma mater, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, publishes excellent tooling required listing for future airframe and powertrain (A&P) students. This resource is a great starting point, and not everything has to be obtained at once.
As profit sharing season approaches, why not live a little and go for a full subset? Kits are a great way to build tools, and it’s cheaper than buying one tool at a time. Look for seasonal offers and monthly promotions. Another great place to collect tools is to work with a local tool truck. Many of them are locally owned and operated; they have license agreement with MAC Tools, Snap-On, Cornwell or many other manufacturers.
Some carriers will open a line of credit and schedule payments. They are informative and the good ones are always ready to offer advice. Plus, tool trucks are cool.
Gathering the proper tooling is just the start of a successful aircraft maintenance program. A tool control program is essential to ensure long-term success. Tool control is the management, organization and accountability of tools. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a Van’s RV-7 you built in your garage or managing multiple Beechcraft King Airs in a corporate flight department; tool control is at the heart of any maintenance plan.
The FAA has an advisory circular that deals with tool control. CA No. 150/5380-5B Debris hazards at civilian airports address tool control several times. Yes, sure, you knew the FAA would have an AC on this. As we go along, it will be useful to note that the FAA will most likely have a technical bulletin on just about everything we discuss. Such is life in a regulated industry.
So far we have talked about hand tools. In subsequent articles in this series, we’ll explore the world of test equipment, flow benches, non-destructive testing (NDT), torque wrenches, and more. Each of the above items will require an additional layer of monitoring and calibration.
As with everything in aerospace, tooling must have documented controls to ensure proper operation. I recently spent time with Jon Byrd, Executive Director of Aviation and TCSG State Aviation Program Advisor for Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) in Rome, Georgia. We’ve covered several key issues facing aircraft maintenance, including tool control.
FLYING: How necessary is tool control for the aerospace industry?
Byrd: Tool control is essential for any aviation organization. There is no margin for error when maintaining aircraft. Tool control and loss prevention are part of the mindset, the culture of aviation. Something as simple as a casing left in a turbine engine nacelle would be devastating.
FLYING: What solutions has Georgia Northwestern Technical College implemented regarding tool control?
Byrd: GNTC operates out of the Russell Regional Airport/JH Towers Field (KRMG) Aviation Training Center in Rome, Georgia, and recently launched the Aviation 7S program, a modified version of the 5S organization method, adding the safety and security to better align with the industry. The 7S method focuses on shadowboxing toolkits. Benjamin Franklin once said a place for everything, everything in its place. Shark-Co Manufacturing builds custom foam molds that incorporate our minimum tool list and shape to fit the student’s toolbox.
FLYING: What is the first step in a tool inspection program?
Byrd: Evaluate your current program. Be honest with yourself and do a needs assessment. Can you detect in seconds if a tool is out of place? Once you have determined what is needed, create a plan, reevaluate it, and implement it.
Jon also offers this sound advice. Never allow yourself to feel comfortable in this industry. Complacency can be deadly in aviation. Continuous improvement should be your mindset, and an effective tool control program is the first step.