Go west, old man.

So there I was…   At work, doing what I used to do so effortlessly, fixing airplanes.  It used to be so easy.  I’ve said before, the skills are still there, but I can hear the Tin Man moaning “Oyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyllllllll!”  Man, am I rusty. 

I’ve spent the last couple weeks relearning old skills and learning new ones.  I have the unique opportunity to work on airplanes I’ve already spent time with and some newer ones.  The company I work for owns one of the most eclectic fleets of aircraft I’ve ever encountered.  Some are almost 60 years old.  There are the heavy haulers, C-46’s, C-118’s DC-6’s from the Forties and Fifties; the middleweights, a handful of Embraer 120 turboprop freighters and 30 passenger liners, and the little guys, a smattering of Piper lances and one Cessna Caravan.  The company’s bought a few DC-9 freighters and we should see the first one in Fairbanks this week. 

I was hired to work the middleweight and smaller planes.  That’s fine with me.  The saying goes that if a DC-6 isn’t leaking oil, it’s empty.  They’re neat old crates and are fun to watch, but I have zero desire to get involved with them.  I try to avoid them like the plague.  I’m loving the Embraer’s.  They’re sleek, modern machines and they’re just complicated enough to keep my interest.  Can’t wait to get my hands on the DC-9.  FINALLY, a real, no kidding jet again!  I love the smell of burnt jet fuel.  Must be my flightline upbringing….

I got to play with the Caravan today.  It’s been having a magnetic compass issue and we finally got one in from supply.  I went out, swapped the “bad” part for the “good” one, came back in and got my trainer to go check the thing out.  One of the checks that needs to be done is to calibrate the magnetic compass to the cardinal points (N, S, E, & W) using a known good master compass and some lines painted on the ground.  This check is usually done at a remote spot on the airfield away from buildings, radios, ferrous metal, and other things that may affect the way a compass reads. 

So off we go into the ice fog (it was about 10 below) to “swing” the compass.  As we’re driving the plane down the taxiway, I notice the compass isn’t quite reading the way we were heading.  It’s about 140 degrees off actually.  Odd….  I can’t adjust out that big of an error  using the adjusting magnets.  We get to the compass swing area and I tell my cohort to “just turn this beast around in a big circle once, will ya?”  I’m watching, he’s driving, and the compass is showing west no matter which way we’re pointing.   Well, hell.  Nice part if all you want to do is go west.  Trouble is there’s not much west of here till you get to Moscow.

“Take me home, mate, it’s still broke.”   Naturally the plane was scheduled to fly this afternoon,  we don’t have another compass nor another broken airplane around to donate a compass, and we can’t fly without one.   We have one coming; it’s supposed to be here at 7 AM.   I get to do this all over again.   Not a big deal, there are 3 screws, 2 wires to splice, and Bob’s your uncle.  The check takes lots longer than changing the part. 

Just another old skill being derusted…… and it’s still FUN!!!!

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1 Response to “Go west, old man.”


  1. 1 Joanie December 19, 2009 at 2:39 am

    Sounds like you’re getting settled in nicely. I’m so happy for you! Now, when you start flying the planes, let me know. I’m coming for a visit.


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