Overhaul Shop Life
I started my career working for, at the time, a little hole in the wall overhaul repair station in the middle of Medley, Florida, making $10 an hour. In this shop, I worked on hydraulic pumps, actuators, and anything pneumatic related. The schedule was nice. I worked Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m with my own desk. It was a comfortable job and worked out great with my school schedule as I was finishing up my Airframe classes. From the minute I started this job, I was excited! It wasn’t an airplane, but it had something to do with aviation! My lead was this older man who was extremely knowledgeable about working pumps. We butt heads a lot, but I learned so much from him! He taught me so many different ways to safety wire and really guided me through the process of knowing and understanding how these pumps worked. The first hydraulic pump I ever touched was an engine-driven pump. Part number 350880-6 I will never forget it! It was this dirty old pump, and I was asked to disassemble the pump. Once I did that, I had to clean the pump and then inspect it. Afterward, we ordered any of the broken parts and sent the hardware out for cadmium plating. The pump would then go into a box until the pump owner did their part of paying for the repairs, and then we would assemble it and test it. I did this for many different hydraulic pumps and actuators.
My least favorite part of the job, besides polishing the barrels that the pistons sat in for the hydraulic pumps, it was also having to shimmy the Electric motor-driven hydraulic pump. So, what I mean by that is in the electric motor- driven hydraulic pump, there is a spring, and underneath the spring, there are shims there. Depending on the number of shims varies if you are going to reach your 3,000 psi. So, considering the repairs made means you might need a different amount of shims than were previously installed. The only way to know if you have enough shims is by testing the pump. So I would have to install the shims at the measurement that seems correct according to the paperwork and the test it. IF you were fortunate enough to have the right number of shims, it was on to the next pump. IF you didn't, you had to disassemble the motor, add or subtract the number of shims that were considered necessary, and then test it again. This could go on for HOURS if it weren't right! MOST FRUSTRATING THING EVER!!!!
My favorite part of the job was when they entrusted me with my own project of overhauling thrust reverser actuators. I was given 30 actuators, and I was told to start by testing them all. The ones that passed, we left them alone. The ones that failed I would overhaul them. I think half of them failed… I can’t remember. Anyways! So I would test them one by one, the ones that failed I would disassemble and pinpoint where, why, and how they were failing, change out the parts and reassemble and test it. Testing it meant pushing Skydrol through the actuator, extending it, and retracting it, making sure it worked properly. This was probably my most significant accomplishment to date at that time.
However, after a couple of months of working there, I started to lose interest in what I was doing. If you know anything about aviation, losing interest in what you are doing is never good. You can become complacent and fall into the norm of things (these are human factors, something we will discuss eventually), and that is a big NO NO!!!
It was hard being 19 and living on my own. $10 an hour wasn’t cutting it; I was struggling, I wasn't happy, I had to do something! At the time, my boss told me I didn’t need my A&P to make it in this field. I was told that my experience alone was more valuable than the certificate. Boy, aren’t I glad that I am and was too stubborn to listen to him! Believe it or not, but that is something you can potentially face in the industry… another thing we will eventually cover. My boyfriend, at the time, worked contractor for a large MRO (Major Repairs and Overhaul) facility. They had been hiring, and he pushed me to go and apply, so I did. I ended up getting the job! I asked my boss if he could give me a raise matching the $18 an hour, and when he refused, I put my two weeks' notice in and left right after.
Working at an overhaul shop might not have been for me, but it was a great learning experience! Something you will see me say a lot is “I really learned so much there!” The fact is, though, it’s the truth! It’s been nine years since I have worked on any type of pump or actuator, and when I look at them, I can still see them disassembled on a table. It has helped me understand what could potentially be the issue with an aircraft and why. The fact is, as a mechanic, you really never do stop learning.