To view this page ensure that Adobe Flash Player version 11.1.0 or greater is installed.
Column F o c u s o n M a i n te n a n c e by Joh n Ca r i n h a Building Trust Cycling has long been a passion of mine, providing an outlet of relief, pleasure and fitness. I do the bulk of my own bike maintenance and have a good sense of what needs doing — and when — to keep my ride rolling. Oddly, the bicycle often brings me to many a helicopter thought. The reason being, it’s really a gyroscope: tilt it and it turns, turn it and it tilts. Equally, for such a simple means of transportation, it involves a large number of moving parts; parts that rarely get much thought until the laws of probability take hold. Context and circumstance are everything, so imagine yours truly barrelling down a mountainside at speeds in excess of 70 kilometers per hour, hands in the drops, head tucked as the pavement below passes in a maze of grey. The sound of the freewheeling cassette was barely audible over the rush of air that passed over body and bike. The high of speed and two-wheel freedom was briefly interrupted by the clink of metal on metal. As my eyes reluctantly glanced down toward my front brake, I realized I’d lost a brake pad. Stopping power, time and distance are greatly affected in these situations and applying any front brake at that point to a racing wheel would have been equivalent to running it through a band saw. I had to make quick decisions and tame my panic in order to ensure a safe and complete stop clear of harm’s way — and with no bodily road rash. Fortunately, I was able to coast to an uneventful stop while feathering my rear brake. Flight tests are an inherent part of our jobs as aviation technicians. The process requires the ability to put some hours on components, balance and track the main and tail rotor blades, and become familiar with any new avionics. Often when a job nears completion and ground tests are conducted and deemed satisfactory, the true test comes in actual performance checks under a variety of flight profiles. For me, this is one of the highlights of any job in aviation — to see, feel and hear how the collective work and effort of a maintenance team and/or facility has resulted in a successful flight test. I often refer to the initial flight as a “shakedown test.” One sunny spring morning, I found myself standing outside on a taxiway waiting to board what would be the inaugural flight test of a newly reborn Bell 205B. It had been completely overhauled and outfitted with a new avionics suite, and everyone was curious how the aircraft would perform both mechanically and electrically. We were soon airborne, and after some hover checks, we transitioned into forward flight. As we proceeded over an expanse of acreage and farmlands, cruising at a modest 2,000 feet above ground level, the master caution light warning system came alive. The dual warning lights blinked, drawing For me, this is one of the highlights of any job in aviation — to see, feel and hear how the collective work and effort of a maintenance team and/or facility has resulted in a successful flight test. 12 Ver tical Maga zine the immediate attention of myself and the pilot. As we scanned the caution panel, my stomach dropped as I saw that the transmission chip light had illuminated. The magnetic chip plugs on the transmission are meant to attract any ferromagnetic particles that may be derived from the internal moving parts of the transmission. The metal particles create a bridge between the magnetic plug and the housing of the detector, effectively closing the electrical circuit to illuminate the warning light. The pilot pressed the master caution reset to no avail; the chip light would not extinguish. He motioned to me with a shrug of his shoulders in wonderment. I maintained a stoic expression but my inside voice was saying, “Hey, how about you take that collective and lower it, lose some airspeed, and get this bird on the ground?” In that moment, a time lapse played out in my mind of every single wire crimped, nut tightened, cotter pin installed and bolt safety tied. It became an “any minute now” moment. I envisioned the masses of moving metal above me just grinding to a halt and the helicopter dropping out of the sky. Needless to say, we landed without further incident and later discovered, through removal of the chip plug, that the ferrous filings found on the plug were conducive with the normal break-in period of the transmission. In moments of arguable fight or flight, it can be easy to default to scepticism and doubt rather than faith and confidence. If a helicopter is the sum of all its parts working in unison, then its serviceability and longevity should be the culmination of the pride, accountability and skill that forms part of our service and workmanship. As with cycling, trust in the machine needs to exist with the operator. As maintainers of these specialized craft, the instillment of such trust begins and ends with us.