TO OPERATE A HELICOPTER MECHANIC
By William C. Dykes
long time ago, back in the days of iron men and wooden rotor blades, a
ritual began. It takes place when a helicopter pilot approaches a
mechanic to report some difficulty with his aircraft. All mechanics
seem to be aware of it, which leads to the conclusion that it's included
somewhere in their training, and most are diligent in practicing it.
New pilots are largely ignorant
of the ritual because it's neither included in their training, nor handed
down to them by older drivers. Older drivers feel that the pain of
learning everything the hard way was so exquisite, that they shouldn't
deny anyone the pleasure.
There are pilots who refuse to
recognize it as a serious professional amenity, no matter how many times
they perform it, and are driven to distraction by it. Some take it
personally. They get red in the face, fume and boil, and do foolish
dances. Some try to take it as a joke, but it's always dead serious.
Most pilots find they can't change it, and so accept it and try to
practice it with some grace.
The ritual is accomplished before
any work is actually done on the aircraft. It has four parts, and goes
something like this:
pilot reports the problem. The mechanic says, There's nothing wrong
After the ritual has been played
through in it's entirety, serious discussion begins, and the problem is
usually solved forthwith.
Like most rituals, this one has
it's roots in antiquity and a basis in experience and common sense.
It started back when mechanics first learned to operate pilots, and still
serves a number of purposes. It's most important function is that it
is a good basic diagnostic technique. Causing the pilot to explain
the symptoms of the problem several times in increasing detail not only
saves troubleshooting time, but gives the mechanic insight into the
pilot's knowledge of how the machine works, and his state of mind.
Every mechanic knows that if the
if the last flight was performed at night or in bad weather, some of the
problems reported are imagined, some exaggerated, and some are real.
Likewise, a personal problem, especially romantic or financial, but
including simple fatigue, affects a pilot's perception of every little
rattle and thump. There are also chronic whiners complainers to be
weeded out and dealt with. While performing the ritual, an
unscrupulous mechanic can find out if the pilot can be easily intimidated.
If the driver has an obvious personality disorder like prejudices, pet
peeves, tender spots, or other manias, they will stick out like handles,
with which he can be steered around.
There is a proper way to operate
a mechanic as well. Don't confuse "operating" a mechanic
with "putting one in his place." The worst and most
often repeated mistake is to try to establish an "I'm the pilot and
you're just the mechanic" hierarchy. Although a lot of
mechanics can and do fly recreationally, they give a damn about doing it
for a living. Their satisfaction comes from working on complex and
expensive machinery. As a pilot, you are neither feared nor envied,
but merely tolerated, for until they actually train monkeys to fly those
things, he needs a pilot to put the parts in motion so he can tell if
everything is working properly. The driver who tries to put a mech
in his "place" is headed for a fall. Sooner or later,
he'll try to crank with the blade tied down. After he has snatched
the tailboom around to the cabin door and completely burnt out the engine,
he'll see the mech there sporting a funny little smirk.
Helicopter mechanics are indifferent to attempts at discipline or
regimentation other than the discipline of their craft. It's
accepted that a good mechanic's personality should contain unpredictable
mixtures of irascibility and nonchalance, and should exhibit at least some
The basic operation of a mechanic
involves four steps:
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