Aircraft mechanics, generally speaking, are a humble group. When someone discovers we work in aviation usually the first question is “Are you a pilot?”. Generally, our response is “No, I’m just a mechanic”. As if what we do for a living is something to hang our heads in shame about.
Mechanic working at altitude in an aircraft fuel tank.
Photo: Michael Spinks
How many different skill sets must we posses to be proficient in our craft? There’s electrician, plumber, heavy equipment operator, computer expert, interior decorator, painter, seamstress, carpenter, welder, machinist, HVAC, metal sculptor and fabricator, creative writer, legal expert, negotiator, draftsman, radio operator, acrobat and contortionist are some that come quickly to mind.
How many different environments do we have to perform these skills in, all without making a mistake? Rain, ice, snow, heat, cold, darkness, blazing sun, confined spaces, toxic environments and high altitudes are just the “normal” environments we work in.
Now add in all the different positions we must put our bodies in to perform these skills in these environments, sometimes simultaneously juggling several skill sets at once while someone is pressuring us to get the job finished. This is the real world of the aircraft mechanic.
We are called “grease monkey”, which is defined as “a mechanic, especially one who works on aircraft” while a pilot is called “an officer and a gentleman”. Pilots, with all due respect, just fly the airplane. Most of us have done that too. The Wright brothers were the first pilots, but they were mechanics before that!
Today’s modern aircraft are the most technologically advanced machines ever created in the history of humans. Our tools are no longer a hacksaw and a hammer, but a laptop computer and digital diagnostic equipment to interface with the advanced systems that are installed on modern aircraft. Sure, we still use basic tools, but the ways in which we use them have been refined.
The next time someone asks “are you a pilot?”, respond by holding your head high and proudly proclaiming “No, I’m an aircraft mechanic.” Shedding the “grease monkey” image starts with us. Mechanics are educated and highly trained. There is no other profession that requires proficiency in so many different skill sets with the level of awesome responsibility that mechanics have. Let’s not forget the liability and risk we assume as well. We’re not baking cookies, we’re in a high risk venture. It’s time we are respected for that. It starts with self-respect.