Working on the Engine

BY T.F. STERN

This morning there was a photograph of an airline mechanic standing on top of a ladder while putting what looked like Duct Tape around the front of the jet engine.  The likelihood of Duct Tape being used for that particular function is minimal at best; but it might have caused a mild panic for passengers looking on.

Back in 1970, while on my way back to Ft. Jackson, South Carolina (it might have been Ft. Gordon, Georgia, to complete Military Police School), I was awaiting a delayed flight out of IAH in Houston.  The delay had something to do with one of the four jet engines as I watched the mechanic standing on a huge ladder as he went over the schematic printed on the engine cover which was propped open.  His finger followed the diagram to a certain point whereupon he’d turn his head and try to follow the information offered by running his finger across the jet engine.  He did this several times; each time a scowl crossed his face as he grimaced in dissatisfaction.

He had my attention.

While talking into a portable radio, he again ran his finger along the schematic diagram while listening to the instructions being offered.  He repeated the ritual of feeling his way across the jet engine which didn’t match up with the diagram; his finger stopped as if there was a hole preventing it from moving further.  He put the jet engine cover down, similar to slamming the hood on a car in anger, and fastened the screws that held it in place; not having done anything other than shake his head in disgust.

My attention to his every action was intense as I followed his getting off the ladder and his using the stairs that led up to the passenger jetway.  After getting his attention, blocking his forward progress by standing in such a way as to make it impossible for him to ignore me, I asked if the plane was okay to fly. 

His answer did not put me at ease.  “Oh, these newer planes fly just as well on three engines as they do on all four.”  He probably thought that was a clever comeback line as he walked away, thinking that he’d have a good laugh once he reached the employee’s break-room.

I, on the other hand, was about to fly across the county in an airplane that had been delayed for about an hour and a half.  From what I could tell, nothing had been done to correct whatever had been the cause of the delay.  Aside from that, the odds of meeting up with my connecting flight were slim. 

About the only positive mark was that all the seats in Coach were filled and they had to put me in First Class.  One of the perks of being in First Class…speaking as a young Private in the Army who had never flown First Class…they served alcoholic beverages at no charge from the moment the doors closed until the airplane reached its final approach into Atlanta.  I got ‘properly snockered’; I believe that’s the appropriate term.  I figured if the plane was going to crash, I was going to be smashed before anyone else. 

Amazingly, the flight across country caught a terrific Jet Stream which pushed the arrival time making it possible for me to catch my connecting flight.  I hurried across the airport and was happy to see the connecting flight had also been delayed due to mechanical issues.  Running through the airport with a heavy buzz was a new experience; plowed would be a more accurate description, I was plowed.

They boarded everyone onto the plane while a team of mechanics dressed in overalls continued with their repairs.  I managed to engage one of them in conversation and found that something wasn’t working with the air conditioning system.  I told him about needing to get back to base to avoid being late and not to worry about the air conditioning.  He explained that the air conditioning and passengers being able to breathe were all part of the same system. 

Looked like we might have to wait for repairs; I was going to be late reporting back in, about two hours late.  I took a bus back to base around ten o’clock; it was raining, just perfect.

The Duty Sergeant listened to my lame excuse for being late, observed my alcohol induced state of readiness along with my sincere attempt to sober up.  He determined the situation really was out of my hands as I stood before him with my travel bag and paperwork.  Instead of writing me up he assigned me to work a guard post the remainder of the night. 

As I stood guard that night it might have been nice to have a roll of Duct Tape, something to hold me up till sunrise.


t-f-stern-1Self-Educated American, Senior Edi­tor, T.F. Stern is both a retired City of Hous­ton police offi­cer and, most recently, a retired self-employed lock­smith (after serving that industry for 40 plus years). He is also a gifted polit­i­cal and social com­men­ta­tor. His pop­u­lar and insight­ful blog, T.F. Sterns Rant­i­ngs, has been up and at it since January of 2005.