With the reliability of aircraft vastly improved, roving mechanics on road trips to outlying stations have greatly decreased. But back when I was fixing airplanes, road trips were common and frequent. Away from the main base - with its supplies of tools and parts - the lessons of the road were many. On this one particular trip, it was the dead of winter and I was sent to work on an aircraft that had landed at Hartford in the middle of the day with oil dripping all over the ground.
Hartford may be an International Airport today with all the high tech gear of an air carrier airport, but back then it was just a tiny terminal with no Part 121 air carrier maintenance at all. The local FBO serviced oil and hydraulics but that was about it. Any real mechanical problems, the mechanics had to be imported from another station. At USAir, traveling mechanics were selected based on whoever was up next on the overtime list. And on this afternoon, I was up next. Another mechanic was called in from home and we hustled off to Hartford without delay.
Before we left, FBO mechanics briefed us on their assessment of where the oil was leaking from so we could bring the proper tools and equipment. In those days, when you left on a road trip, you knew you were pretty much on your own so you had to be as prepared as possible. The FBO mechanics reported that the leak appeared to be coming from the gear box area of the engine, a JT8D. But everything was slick with oil and they couldn’t tell for sure. Difficult to plan in situations like this; if we needed a tool or part, we had to have it with us – or wait for it to be shipped to us, a time-consuming task. With no air carrier maintenance there at all and the FBO just handling GA aircraft, we guessed at what we might need, loaded up the car and headed 100 miles west to Hartford.
When we got to Hartford, the aircraft was waiting for us in a remote parking area. Snow covered the ground. The wind tore through our thermal layers. Cold and slippery as it was, we had an airplane to fix and we got right to work. A grounded aircraft in the middle of the day meant flight cancellations all day long so there was pressure to get it fixed and flying again. We cleaned up the visible oil and performed an engine run. Sure enough with the engine running you could clearly see where the oil was coming from – a crack along a weld in the oil tank. We ordered a new tank since of course there was none at Hartford and proceeded to remove the broken one.
Removing an oil tank is not usually a big deal but at a remote location with no ladders, removing a tank 7 or 8 feet off the ground was a challenge. Unfortunately, on this day, we weren’t up to the challenge. We cobbled together something to stand on, but on the slippery ground it shifted. I fell over backwards still holding the tank. And in the process broke one of the three mounting studs. Tools to remove the broken stud had to be brought in and a new stud shipped in from Pittsburgh. A minor problem at any major station became a 24 hour odyssey in Hartford.
Moral of the Story: Haste makes waste, especially on a slippery surface in a remote location without proper work stands.