THE INDISPENSABLE EMPLOYEE

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During aviation's infancy the entire maintenance department of an airline might have consisted of one or two mechanics at either end of the run. It was their job to check the planes, see that they were functioning properly, and fix anything that was broken or not working properly. The work might have been done on the apron or in a hangar, which probably was shared with owners of small planes. No one at that time could have dreamed of the huge maintenance depots that are operated by the airlines today, let alone the stringent maintenance regulations lay down by the Federal Aviation Administration as well as by the airlines themselves.

During those early days mechanics did not have any special training. They learned by doing and if they were good automobile mechanics, chances were that they could learn quickly what they needed to know about an airplane. Since then there has been great change. Airplane mechanics, who are also called professional aviation technicians, are highly trained individuals who are specially licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration to repair and maintain our nation's fleet of commercial airplanes as well as aircraft owned and operated by others.

THE MECHANIC'S LICENSE



It takes time, study, and hard work to earn your mechanic's license. Two ratings may be obtained by an airline mechanic: airframe (the body of an airplane) and power plant (the engine). Most people entering the Scheduled maintenance are handled by other mechanics. All planes are inspected and different types of maintenance are performed according to a schedule based on the number of hours the aircraft has flown, calendar days, or a combination of these factors. These mechanics may examine the engines through specially designed openings as they work standing on ladders or scaffolds, or it may be necessary to remove the entire engine from the plane by using hoists or forklifts. Other mechanics may take the engine apart, then measure the various parts for wear by using delicate instruments, check for invisible cracks with X-ray and magnetic inspection equipment, and replace worn parts. They may also repair sheet metal surfaces, measure the tension of all control cables, and check for distortion, rust, and cracks in parts of the fuselage and wings. Once repairs are made, the mechanics test the equipment to make sure that the repairs were made properly.

At certain points along an airline system, line maintenance is performed, usually at the larger stations where there is adequate hangar space. This maintenance consists of periodic checks and servicing of various parts of the airplane and its power plant. For major maintenance and overhaul the airplanes are sent to what is usually a very large facility, a "maintenance base," which may consist of several huge buildings, each capable of holding several aircraft and containing sophisticated machine shops and every conceivable kind of equipment required for the extensive repair and refurbishing work undertaken. In each of these facilities hundreds of mechanics and others are employed.

As noted previously mechanics are among the most essential of all airline employees. The safety of every flight depends upon how well all of the mechanics performed their jobs. A loose nut, a missing bolt, an imperfect fit could spell disaster in the air.

ADDITIONAL TRAINING EARNS ADVANCEMENT

The first step in advancement can be achieved after you have your Federal Aviation Administration licenses and have had three years of experience. At that point you may receive your "Inspection Authorization," which makes you a "mechanic's mechanic" one authorized to inspect and approve the work of other mechanics. This brings a higher rate of pay and more recognition.

The course of advancement is usually from mechanic to head mechanic or crew chief, to inspector, to head inspector, to shop supervisor. A few supervisors may rise to executive positions.

Advanced training is also available in the form of specialized factory training. Many manufacturers offer advanced training in a facility right at the factory. With this additional education you may specialize in fields that include jet turbines, propellers, interior design and upholstery, aircraft painting, maintenance of helicopters, nondestructive testing, and many others.

There is keen competition for these jobs. The fact that mechanics are so well paid has made it an attractive profession. Therefore it is difficult at times to find a job because there are more qualified applicants than job openings, and from time to time when airline business slacks off and schedules are cut back, mechanics are laid off and placed on furlough. Do not let this discourage you, however. When the time comes for you to get your mechanic's training, find out about employment prospects by contacting the personnel departments of two or three airlines.

JOBS IN GENERAL AVIATION

If airline job prospects are slim, try general aviation; private companies that operate airports, provide certain flight services, and run repair shops; corporations that have their own fleets of aircraft; the forestry service, state fish and game departments; municipalities; and the federal government, which employs civilian mechanics in the military as well as at the Federal Aviation Administration headquarters in Oklahoma City.

Airplane mechanics, who are also called professional aviation technicians, are highly trained individuals who are specially licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration to repair and maintain our nation's fleet of commercial airplanes as well as aircraft owned and operated by others.
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