Submitted by Jason Hill, Base Maintenance Technician, Carilion Clinic Life-Guard/Med-Trans Corporation
“Guys, you can make money as an Airframe and Power plant mechanic with the skills I’m going to teach you in this class.”
This was the introduction I had to this crusty old Instructor named Rupert at Colorado Aero Tech many years ago. I had just finished a six year enlistment in the Army as a Helicopter mechanic prior to attending Colorado Aero Tech. I had no idea what FAA regulations were, or how they would apply to me as a future AMT. All I knew was, I had acquired a love of maintaining these amazing machines in the Army and I wanted to do the same thing in the Civilian sector. I was handed three books on Airframe, Powerplant, and General Aviation knowledge. I also had my FAA Books on Advisory Circulars (AC43-13) for general practices and my book on FAA Regulations. It was at that point I thought I might be in over my head in this A&P mechanic business, and I would, in fact, not be making any of this money that Rupert was talking about. My A&P School did provide the blueprint that I use to this day.
Ask many questions. Take the time to find and research all sources required to perform a maintenance task. Work under the wing of more seasoned mechanics and learn along the way.
I made it through school just fine and managed to learn more about wood and fabric than I did about helicopters, but it was a great experience and I had earned my A&P License.
As I progressed throughout my career, I found that helicopter mechanics are very small group in the pool of aviation maintenance. I tried to shy away from the mechanics who thought they knew everything or the ones who had a negative outlook on the industry or the company. It was exciting to be a part of a major completion, component change or overhaul. Even the everyday task of pre-flighting an aircraft was starting to build my confidence. Working in a repair facility helped me hone in on many skills.
We all have our strengths as well as parts of the job about which we feel less confident. Back in the Army most of my counterparts were fearful of the unknown. The dreadful Rotor Analysis Diagnostic System, aka RADS, had been introduced replacing the Chadwick or even scarier Flag Stick and Grease pencil method. I was the newbie so I was in charge of learning the equipment, how to install it, and how to make it work. I approached this like any new procedure that I was doing for the first time – slowly and cautiously. I did a lot of reading in advance and felt confident in the installation of the equipment. Through much trial and error, I wouldn’t say I mastered the RADS, instead maybe harnessed its potential. As a result I became the go-to guy. Even though track and balance equipment has changed over the years, the principle remains the same and it is still one of my favorite procedures to do on our aircraft.
One of my less than confident skill sets is electrical and avionics. It’s been a slow and steady process, but I continue to learn as I was fortunate enough to work on a two mechanic per-ship program for several years. My Avionics mentor, Rick, has walked me through to the light when I was about to pull my hair out trying to diagnose one of those pesky intermittent electrical issues. I will never turn down an opportunity to learn.
There is no shame in your game if you need to call somebody to help you out.
We are fortunate enough to have four mechanics at our program with separate skill sets and one common goal: To finish the job in a safe and proficient manner. We constantly help each other can call upon on another when we have a question, need a helping hand, or another set of eyes. While we work at separate bases, collectively we make a great team.
There is a world of information out in the rotary wing world and it is our duty to channel our resources. When aircraft maintenance manuals are not clear, call your factory tech rep. They are more than happy to help you out. If you are in over your head, call a time out and ask for assistance. Plan in advance and have what you need when you need it. Have a second set of eyes look over your work.
Listen to your pilots, med-crews, and listen to your aircraft when doing your daily checks. They will all let you know when something is not up to par.
Being proactive on the front side will save you hours, days, or even weeks of misery on the back side.
The HEMS Mechanic is a very important part of the team. We play a vital role in providing a fully functional and safe helicopter in which our flight crews perform their duties. We might not get our picture taken in the newspaper or magazines. We won’t be on the 6 o’clock news. But I really don’t mind being behind the scenes when I know that I have done my best and my aircraft is safe and airworthy because my aircrew members have always made me feel part of that team.
As for Rupert, I’m sure he’s about 20 years older than dirt by now and still pounding rivets into an airframe. If I ever happen to run into him, I’m going to ask him where is all this money I’m supposed to be making by now. But for now, I’ll just pick up my tools and go to work.
Jason Hill is a helicopter mechanic with Med-Trans Corporation and is based out of the Carilion Clinic Life-Guard program in Virginia which uses EC135 aircraft in Westlake, Radford, and Lexington. Prior to his civilian career in HEMS, Jason served in the United States Army, including assignments in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. He currently serves on the AAMS Vision Zero Task Force.