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Typical Day

Tommy Toolbox slams the Snooze button for the third time. He quickly abandons that plan, however, when he realizes he's run out of fudge time (not the small window during which he is afforded the chance to nosh on chocolaty treats). He doesn't want to get docked for being late, and he also wants to avoid being the target of ridicule at the monthly all-hands mechanics' meetings. His Director of Maintenance runs a pretty tight ship, which Tommy grudgingly admits is necessary with the facility's high volume of general aviation maintenance business.

Tommy eliminates his morning coffee stop so he can punch in on time. Man, this 5am starting time is killing me, he thinks, but it does let us knock out a couple of hours without any time-consuming distractions. Tommy glances at the day's maintenance calendar; just routine maintenance jobs like oil changes and tire checks. Two owners want their airplanes washed and detailed, which will take a while in the hot summer sun. Good thing Tommy has stashed some high-grade sunscreen and a decent fishing hat in his locker; he doesn't want to get fried. He's also going to load up on water. He practically keeps Dasani in business.

Next stops: the little boys' room and the coffee machine. It's important not to mix those two up. Then to his toolbox, which most mechanics (including Tommy) regard as their most prized possession. From a career perspective, they are spot on: an aircraft mechanic is as good as his tools. Many aircraft maintenance tasks involve equipment installations and adjustments in impossibly small spaces. Specially designed tools allow the mechanic to perform these jobs efficiently and safely, instead of applying brute force with the wrong tool and potentially breaking the aircraft's equipment. Borrowing tools regularly doesn't win the mechanic many friends, either.

Tommy stashes his oil change tools in a canvas bag and trots to the far end of the hangar, where his friend Jim has maneuvered the first aircraft into place with a maintenance tug. Tommy isn't looking forward to the day he becomes qualified to operate the tug himself. One moment of inattention, or a burst of gas instead of the brake, might result in an extremely expensive aircraft collision. Jim is a top notch plane jockey, though, and parks the plane perfectly between two others awaiting annual inspections. Tommy scans his customer's engine for red flags that would indicate a major problem, finds none, and positions the oil catch pan to begin his work. He had gotten some good practice at this a few years ago while interning as a nurse’s aide at the local hospital. Not a big jump from bedpans to oil catch pans.

One oil change down. Tommy buttons up the plane's engine and cleans and inventories his tools. Good, nothing left inside the engine this time. Finally, Tommy fills out the required maintenance log entries. He detests paperwork with every fiber of his being, considering it a form of torture inflicted by sadistic Directors of Maintenance. However, Tommy realizes that correct documentation provides an owner with a complete aircraft maintenance record. The paperwork also serves another less-discussed purpose: It could help protect—or incriminate—the mechanic in case of an accident or equipment failure investigation.

On to aircraft #2, which Jim has eased into place in the first plane's vacant spot. This oil change isn't quite as straightforward, as Tommy has to delicately dislodge some frozen fittings without damaging them or the surrounding components. Hmmm...might mean this airplane hasn't seen much recent maintenance. Once Tommy drains and examines the used oil, he notices some decent-sized bits of metal that indicate something is out of whack inside that engine. Tommy calls Scott, his Director of Maintenance, to analyze the oil and decide on a course of action. Oil change #2 has come to an abrupt stop, but that doesn't mean Tommy can wander aimlessly around the hangar until lunchtime. Scott expects his mechanics to put in a full day's work; they can work on a plane, sweep the floor, or organize the chaos of the parts room. At the very least, they can make an attempt to look like they were busy.

Finally, it's lunchtime. Good thing, too, since Tommy's stomach is growling and roaring from the pitiful breakfast he'd inhaled on his way to work. He swipes his timecard, grabs a sandwich and soda from the break room's vending machines, and wolfs down his lunch before closing his eyes for a few minutes. "Who? What?" Tommy shouts as Jim nudges him awake. How could a half hour possibly go by so fast?

Okay, time to tackle the filthy planes. Tommy gathers his bucket and cleaning supplies, throwing in some bottled water and sunscreen as he trots out the door. He can think of worse jobs than washing planes, especially when he can soak up some rays and get paid for it. Too bad he can't change into a pair of cutoffs and an old T-shirt (they still haven't entirely moved past the old "bikini planewash scandal"). Blasted Scott insists on the mechanics wearing their uniforms. Fine, Tommy thought, I'll get sopping wet and see what Scott thinks of his newest mechanic then.

Unfortunately, Tommy's escape gets foiled by an intrusive crackling on his two-way radio. "Hey, son," Scott barks impatiently, "get over on taxiway #2 and change a blown tire. Plane just had a rough landing and the tire got the worst of it. Come in here first and pick up the right model tire. I've allocated an hour for the job. When you're done, get right back to cleaning the planes. The owners are picking them up tomorrow morning, and they want their aircraft spotless. You don't get to leave until they're all dolled up and back in their hangars."

Can we get a jump?

"No use arguing with him," Tommy mutters. He closes up the plane and hoofs it to the hangar to pick up the tire. Two hours later, he trudges back to the dirty plane, spending another two hours washing and polishing the exterior. After vacuuming and dusting the cabin, he hobbles to the other plane and repeats the process. Finally, Tommy locks the plane, clocks out as the sun sets, and crawls into his truck, totally exhausted.

Okay, that's Conscientious Tommy. Shows up on time, does a decent day's work, and seems willing to learn. Might even get a promotion someday. Now meet Careless Tommy, Conscientious Tommy's alter ego who almost gets fired during his second week on the job. Careless Tommy doesn't have much of a work ethic; actually, he has none at all. This Tommy ignores Scott's instructions to put an oil catch pan under a plane before emptying the oil reservoir. Careless Tommy also drops a wrench onto a brand-new twin engine plane's wing, resulting in scratches and dents the shop has to repair for free. He wears a hole into a customer's white leather upholstery while cleaning up the soda he spilled while polishing the interior. Do Scott's relentless criticism—and disciplinary actions—make Tommy realize the next step is a boot kick out the door? Does Careless Tommy realize he'll lose his apartment and his truck if he gets fired again? Strange forces are at work here—forces that cause the miraculous morphing of a slacker do-nothing into a reasonably useful maintenance shop gofer. At least for this week.