The same day I finished airplane mechanic school, I started an airline internship (a week ago Monday). Every weeknight I go to their maintenance facility at the south end of Sea-Tac Airport. Here’s a typical day-in-the-life of a fledgling airline mechanic.
I arrive a little before 9:00 PM and head to the (very empty) women’s locker room to change into my work boots and day-glo reflective vest. The boots are new as of my fourth day because on my third day I had to step off a lift into a very high cargo compartment and I decided my Cole-Haan oxfords were just not going to cut it for traction. Once I’m suited up I join the other interns at what has become the “interns’ table” in the operations lounge (not sure what it’s really called, but it’s a kind of break room where everyone assembles at the beginning of the shift).
At exactly 9:00 PM the lead kicks off “Stretch and Flex.” This is a series of stretches that the regular employees conduct with a widely varied range of enthusiasm.
After Stretch and Flex the assignments are given out. The first night I was there, this was the point where I got kind of lost. Lots of names and numbers rattled off. This is where the mechanics are told what planes they’re going to be working on for the night. And hey, there’s MY name. After the first night I learned to listen for my name and note what people I would be assigned to.
I have worked there 7 times so far. Here’s a rundown of stuff I have done.
Night 1: Waited for our plane to come in. Finally it arrived and the guy in charge of us showed us how to do a walk around and how the computers in the flight deck are used to do certain operational checks. We also got to go into the bowels of the plane to look at panels of circuit breakers.
Night 2: I squirted grease into fittings on the landing gear of a 757. I got very, very dirty. Then we were going to change one of the nose gear tires but we ran out of time.
Night 3: Removed and replaced the APU battery in an Airbus 330. My person for the evening had me do most of the work, which meant I had to safety wire with a witness – always a stressful situation, but I managed to get the safety wire right on the first try. And, got more practice safety wiring, which one can always use.
Night 4: Helped remove and replace nose gear tires on an Airbus 330. Let’s just say it was a learning experience. Some things went wrong. They may have been partially my fault, but I’m really not sure. In any case, they asked me back so I guess it’s OK.
Night 5: My first experience as a “rug bunny.” You’re a rug bunny when you spend the shift doing stuff inside the cabin. There’s a separate crew that does the interiors – seats, tray tables, entertainment systems, stuff like that. But the lavatories and galleys are the purview of the mechanics. I spent the evening putting crushed ice in toilets, changing lavatory air filters and vacuuming out the chiller vents in the galleys (kind of like vacuuming your fridge coils). Not the most glamorous mechanic job, but I got it done and my boss for the night appreciated the help.
Night 6: Helped remove and replace the integrated drive generator on engine 2 of a 757. This involved hours kneeling on the ground under the engine, working on barely accessible bolts. It was good practice but next time I’ll bring my knee pads. I got my part of the job done but I wish I had been faster.
Night 7: Inspected the cargo compartment on a 737. Found a dirty sock, which I didn’t want to think about too much. Obviously someone didn’t zip their suitcase up all the way. Ugh. Also, found several luggage tags. Note to everyone – don’t have luggage tags on the outside of your checked bags. They will not survive.
The main thing I’m learning is that real-world mechanic work is very different from what we learned in school, but school helps me know where to start when I get a new task.