Not what you wanna hear…

 Big doings up here in the frozen freakin’ North.  Another fun-filled week with sick airplanes.  The weather’s turning towards winter and I really expect we’ll see some snow in the next few weeks.  The birch trees in my backyard are chortling at my efforts to collect the leaves they shed.  I truly think they can see.  They wait, watching, biding their time until I get the day’s production of yellow off the grass.  You think that soft rustling is the wind in the branches.  HA!  It’s the trees conspiring together, talking, planning which of them is next to rain hordes of yellow leaves down upon my little piece of earth.  Little do they know I have a chainsaw and a wood stove.  I can be patient too…..

The golden boys who drive my bugmashers (I know, the company owns them, but they’re still mine. After all, I’m the one skinning my knuckles on ’em all the time) ran me out of flyable airframes this week.  I tried to tell ’em just coz you have four airplanes doesn’t mean you can fly all four all the time.  I gotta be able to fix them too and I can’t do that if you’re off perforating the aerospace in ’em.  So come last Monday, I had three airplanes with less than 15 flight hours each left until I had to do an inspection and one in the hangar just finishing up.  I managed to get the one inside done and the next one started Monday.  By Wednesday, they ran one out of time, and had three hours left on our workhorse, the Caravan.  I got to put in 12 hours Wednesday to get the second airplane out and available for Thursday’s flying.  We parked the out of time Piper off in the north forty and I started hammering on the Caravan Friday.  And Saturday. And Sunday.

The plan Friday was to have the Caravan done this afternoon for tomorrow’s schedule and bring the Piper in to knock it out in a couple of days.  All was looking great until I hear a dreadful “Oh, shit”  from Wheel & Brake Bob on Sunday afternoon.  He’s helping me out over the weekend and I can’t say enough good things about him.  Bob’s looking over the airframe part of the inspection while I give the engine its dose of tender care.  (Where’s my hammer?) He’s got his melon stuck up inside the tail section and I hear ” there’s (garbled) big (garbled) crap back here.”  That’s what I heard.  What he said was:

There’s two big cracks back here.

Not something one wishes to hear on Sunday afternoon.  And it looked as though there were.   They looked like cracks, they acted like cracks, and they were in a very bad spot.  We packed it in for the day and headed home.  So much for the plan.

This morning Bob & I are at the back-end of this beast with the bosses, our ace crack detector, Bud, and a camera.  Cracked, comes the consensus.  Damn the bad luck.  It appears the vertical tail fin, the rudder, the horizontal stabilizers, and the elevators all have to come off along with their associated control cables and wiring.  Not an easy task.    I’ve called Cessna to talk to their engineers about a fix and we’re having a “how-do-we” powwow.  Pictures are taken, heads are scratched, and a plan is hatched.  Off I go to email the pics to Cessna along with a description of what we’re looking at so they can shoot us a repair plan. 

I pull the parts breakdown out to find the part numbers of the area that’s cracked so the gang at Cessna can find things.  It’s not there.  The book doesn’t show the part I’m seeing in the plane.  That doesn’t surprise much, but the deeper I dig the less I find.  Not in the fuselage breakout nor the tail breakout.  I know the yahoos in Wichita put the part in,  I’m looking at the sodding thing.  It’s gotta be in this book somewhere.  Dig some more, come up with a whole lot of bupkus. Then the light bulb goes on. 

I’ll go yard the front edge of the vertical fin off and see if there’s a part number stamped on the cracked piece.  Down the stairs to my trusty rusty tools and up the ladder I go.  The fin fairing is riveted on with a gazillion rivets.  Bastards!  Wait one, there’s a small access panel right here, let’s pull that off and have a gander.  Zip,zip,zip out come the screws and off comes the panel.  Mirror and darkness penetrator in hand I go looking for our cracks.  Not there.  Down the ladder to the access where we found the cracks in the first place, have a look up to where they are and all I see is hangar roof.   Back up the ladder and grab the panel.  Our “crack’  is a dark line of metal powder on the underside of this panel created when the top skin of the fuselage and this little access panel vibrate against each other.  It’s called fretting.  Both sides of the plane have these panels and both have the fretting. 

Bottom line, it ain’t cracked.   I’ll have the Caravan done by midday tomorrow and I can start on yanking the engine off the 340 (the one making all the metal)  so it can get shipped back to Texas.  My boss is ecstatic about not having a cracked Caravan and I’m totally chuffed I don’t have to tear it down to individual molecules. I feel a little stupid about the whole thing, but what the hell.  It’s not like I missed cracks in the O-rings that blew up a space shuttle…

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1 Response to “Not what you wanna hear…”


  1. 1 Mom October 22, 2010 at 7:50 am

    I’m not sure what I am more impressed with…..the story or the solution…..brilliant!


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