Friday, February 14, 2014

The Cylinder Change

It was quite common that aircraft technical crews worked late into the evening to have aircraft ready for flying the next morning. This was the situation I found myself in on this particular day whilst in 38 Squadron at Richmond. If the job wasn't a cylinder change it was something else that took a while to complete. And that was a problem for the sergeant engine fitter rostered to stay back that evening.

As a corporal engine fitter my job was to supervise the LAC tradesmen - this was before tradespersons were invented, aircraft maintenance being an all-male domain at the time - assigned to me for the job. This meant, among other things, checking their work and signing the paperwork to verify that the work was to the required standard. Almost everything we did required both the tradesman's and the supervisor's signature. Then there was a third signature or, more accurately, a stamp. This was that of the independent inspector. If a particular task, such as fitting a control cable, was considered safety critical, it had to be checked by an independent inspector of at least sergeant rank to verify it had been done properly.

For the sake of anonymity I will call the LAC Bill (to protect the innocent) and the sergeant Frank (to protect the guilty).

Frank was a keen exerciser with a preference for repetitive lifting of light weights (10 or 15 ounces), especially with the preferred hand. He frequently indulged his passion in the bar of the Sergeants Mess where he could enjoy the company of others as he did so. And, like all keen exercisers, the thought of missing a day caused some anxiety.

Bill was a good worker, but didn't take to being hassled.  As the hands on the clock moved ever so slowly past 1700 hours Frank began to appear with increasing frequency to encourage Bill to work faster. And Bill reacted.

He would look at the next step in the task and mutter so that those around could hear 'I think I need a 5/16th inch spanner'. Then he would walk to the tool board, remove the spanner, place his tool tag on the board, and walk back to the aircraft. 'No', I would then hear, 'it must be a 3/4 inch'. So he would return the first spanner to the tool board, retrieve his tag, pick up the new tool, place the tag, and return to the job. The more agitated Frank became, the slower Bill went.

Caribou of 35 and 38 Sqn outside the 38 Sqn hangar at Richmond
Frank could see himself missing out on his daily sojourn to the Mess. Finally,  the frustration got the better of him. He went to the servicing log, pulled out his independent inspectors stamp, stamped the page in the appropriate place, and initialed the stamp to say he had checked the job. 'I'm off now', he said. 'See you tomorrow.'

We eventually finished the job, signed the paperwork and went home. And that was the end of the story. But I have often wondered what would have happened if the engineering officer had returned that night to see where we were up to, or if something unforeseen ha
d meant that we were unable to finish the job that evening. Or, worse still, if something had not been completed properly and there was a subsequent enquiry into the reason why that got to the truth. While that would not have done my career or Bill's any good, I'm sure the ramifications for Frank would be worse.

It also taught me something about people management. There will always be those people that need some encouragement to get on with the job. But you need to know who those individuals are, because if you apply the wrong management technique in a given situation, it may well prove counterproductive, as it did in this case.

No comments:

Post a Comment