Category Archives: A&P/IA

A&P School: Almost Done

It’s been three and a half semesters since A&P school started on August 10th, 2011. Here I am getting ready for my last mid-term in the program. It feels really good to be so far along but there is still a ton to get done in a short time. There is a mid term, several quizzes and tests, and a final. After that there are still the FAA tests, the written, and the oral/practical that need to be passed to add the Powerplant rating to my mechanic certificate.

After finishing my mechanic ratings there is still the matter of finishing my AS in Aviation Maintenance Technology. The good news on this front is it looks like I will be able to finish my AS over the summer with three classes, one of which is a single unit in kinesiology (P.E. for those over 30.)  Then I can transfer to San Jose State to finish my undergrad work with a BS in Aviation Maintenance Management.

Ever since I embarked on this journey making plans has required factoring in lots flexibility and not making any plans too dependent on outside influences. In short, not making plans so much as having general ideas and making sure I can easily divert from one to an alternate without too much upheaval in the universe. Building all of this flexibility into the planning process has made it very difficult to do any advance work down one path or another. In one sense this has been beneficial because it has kept me on a fairly narrow focus towards completion and has been an education in and of itself. I have been keeping projects at arms length because I know I don’t have enough time to complete them and along the way I have also learned the importance of the word “no” and how to use it.

Another important skill set I have been honing is applying value to my time going beyond coming up with an hourly rate by encompassing the value of learning from projects. Deciding if a project is worth taking on or is the time better served by farming it out. Sometimes when I know I can do something, it’s not the can I that is the important part, it is the should I part that needs the thinking. This is where the time and resource Black Hole can rear its ugly head and make a fun project suck, or a profitable project turn into a money pit.

With all of this learning and self realization going on you might think I would awaken from this aviation dream and realize that it is a bitch to make any money in this industry. Nope, no such luck. I’m hooked. I do think I have learned a few “secrets” to aviation/business success though. Keep it simple, keep the scope narrow, get and stay known in your niche, and never compromise on the quality of your work. An aviation business can always fail, but these are the key things that seem to cause a business to fail, aviation or otherwise.

What is the take-away from all of this? Work with what you have. Take on only the work you can do now. Grow slowly with well planned steps. Never stop learning. Keep an eye to the sky, an ear to the ground, and your nose to the grind stone, then you just might make it.

Blue skies and tail winds,

Knowledge tests done

Stearman wing rib jigOn Monday, June 4th I went down to Ocean Air Flight Services with my classmate Rob where we took our General and Airframe knowledge tests passing them both handily. With that behind us the next step is to head out to Byron Airport, again with Rob, and take the practical for General and Airframe which we already have scheduled for Tuesday, June 12th.

Today I took the day off from studying, got side tracked by a little “work”, then got to take a few hours of mental relaxation and headed down to the shop to work on the Stearman wing rib jig I started working on back on May 29th.

Working on the Stearman wing rib jigI started off by trimming the blocks I milled the other day down to the right size. After trimming things down a bit, I gathered the rest of my materials. With brass tack nails, glue, and a couple of hand tools on the jig board I got started nailing the blocks into place.

After a few hours of tacking and gluing the blocks in place I had almost all of the inside blocks in place and nailed down. There are just a couple of blocks left on the interior to install then I get to extrapolate the nose-block and figure out how to block the furthest aft vertical truss piece. That last item is going to be interesting because there is no room to block in the piece with the gussets in the way on the sample rib I have.

I learned a few things while doing this today; the most important of which is to not hold out on the good lumber for the jig blocks. Another thing is that lots of small blocks is much better than fewer large blocks. While your at it, if you use a good medium/hard wood, take the time to pre-drill the blocks. As it is, there are 73 blocks on the inside (or will be anyway) and I am estimating 60 blocks on the outside, that’s a total 133 blocks for this wing rib jig.

Were I to start over on this one, I would take a lot of time to pre-cut, pre-drill, sand, and set nails in 250 or more 3/8″ x 3/8″ x 5/8″ long blocks of Douglas Fir. In fact, I am sure I will be doing another jig sometime in the near future so I think once this jig is done, I am going to prefab a box of 500 or more jig blocks. Of course to fabricate that many blocks I will need to build a jig-block jig to make all of them. 😉

☮ ♥ ✈


Again with the long time between posts…

Stearman wing rib jigSchool has been quite the load this year. 21 units a semester is keeping me very busy. On May 25 I finished my second semester of A&P school which means I can take my FAA tests for my Airframe Mechanic Certificate. I am scheduled to take my first two knowledge tests on June 4th and my two practical tests on June 12th. I will post more about them after I take the tests.

My finals went very well. I got 99% in General and 98% in Airframe. Results that I am not at all unhappy with. I have been busting ass studying for exams; school really has taken over my life, in a good way.

Plans for the summer break are to build a wing rib jig for a Stearman. I borrowed a repaired rib from one of my instructors and started work on the jig Tuesday (Stearman Photo Album on Google+). I picked up some nails for the jig and for making a rib on Wednesday. I should have the jig finished in the next few days but it will be a while before I can do the ribs.

I need to source some 1/16″ mahogany plywood for the rib gussets; this stuff is a bugger to find locally and I don’t want to have to get it from Aircraft Spruce. The shipping costs are really high and it would almost be cheaper to organize a will-call run down to Corona and split the fuel costs with some fellow pilots, mechanics, & builders. I need to get some Alodine and Alumiprep anyway and I could save about $40 in shipping and hazmat costs on those alone.

Building a rib jig and wing ribs are fun distractions to relax with when I need a break from studying. Another allowed distraction is catching up on my aviation magazines, with lots of maintenance and restoration articles. Less the two distractions above, the blinders stay on and my focus is on finishing my Airframe Mechanic Certificate before next term starts. I don’t want to have anything hanging over my head when I start Powerplant.

Time to get back to the studying and practice tests…

☮ ♥ ✈

Tribal Knowledge

While reading through my monthly yard of magazines I came across an article that sparked my interest. It wasn’t the whole article, or even a complete section, it was two paragraphs that grabbed hold of my attention.  The point the author was making was that in the aviation maintenance industry, thought I think it holds true for many industries, pass-down is an endangered skill set.

For those who don’t know, pass-down, typically found in law enforcement or in the military, is when a shift changes hands the person going off-shift meets for a few minutes with the person going on-shift and gives them a briefing on what transpired and what new bits of information may be of importance or value to the next shift.

Pass-down is a simple process and can be vitally important in dangerous environments. In aircraft maintenance  when a particular job will take multiple shifts to complete, taking the time to pass along information about the previous shift can prevent things from being missed, or provide a clue on a difficult problem that will save the next shift a lot of time and frustration. In short it can save money and lives.

In the short term it is fairly obvious how this can be an important part of many industries saving time and money by passing along information and lessons learned from one person or team to the next. Where this becomes really beneficial is in the long term. It is that shared knowledge base that can keep us from having to relearn the same tasks over and over again. By now you are probably going “ya, duh” but here’s the rub, it happens far less than you might think.

Accumulated knowledge does happen, and it manifests in many ways, books, documents, magazines, websites, wikies, and more, but the volume of what doesn’t make it to those resources is staggering. There is so much OJT knowledge that can only be found through experience and working side-by-side with someone who ether had it passed down ti them or had to learn it on their own.

As a society we have thirst for knowledge, or at least experience, in our hobbies and recreational pursuits we are more than happy to pass along information, it seems to be very different in our professional lives. It seems as though we treat those bits of knowledge as trade secrets that we have teased out of our jobs. Something that will make us look good before reviews, or let us shine above our fellow workers.

Accumulate this store of knowledge, we stash it away for a rainy day. I understand the mechanics and psychology of it, it is a convoluted combination of motivations, but it really isn’t helpful to us, our employers/clients, or our fellow travelers down the path of our chosen career. What we should be doing is mentoring, not only the skills that we have learned, but the pride and ethics of a job well done.

In truth, I think the decline of pass-down is more a symptom of the money-above-all-else attitude that seems to be pervasive in business. You still find active participants in pass-down among those whose lives are at stake every shift but in the day-to-day lives of the non-lifethreatened worker there is little incentive. Loyalty and trust are in short supply on both sides of the employer/employee relationship and this two way street doesn’t seem to see much traffic these days.

I believe there are five ways to show commitment to my craft/trade.

  • To always do the best that I can
  • To take ownership in my work
  • To continue to learn and hone my craft
  • To encourage those who show interest and promise
  • To always practice my craft/trade with honor and integrity

Following this path, at lest for me, is how I combat this money-first attitude. Sure I want to make a profit, but I am willing to take a few points off the top to maintain my personal standards and integrity. Are you?

Enter December

Here we are, it’s already December. It seems like just yesterday I was all jazzed about starting a build project, a new weight loss program, and going back to school.

Let’s get the ugly out of the way first. The build project was basically abandoned. I had only built two bulkheads and had not spent that much money, so it wasn’t a painful decision just a pragmatic one. The airplane would not really meat my needs in the long run, so it wasn’t a good choice in the first place.

Going back to school was a bit more interesting. My initial plan was to work towards an aeronautical engineering degree. After some thought and talking with some other people it seemed wiser to work on a more practical program like getting my FAA Airframe & Powerplant certificates.

I signed up for the Spring semester at San Jose City College and began working on my general education requirements. In the Fall I signed up at Gavilan College in the AMT (Aviation Maintenance Technology) program and work on my A&P.

One of my instructors and a fellow student are electrical engineers and they both confirmed that going after the engineering degree, while interesting, wouldn’t really help me with my plans.

My first term is just about over now and things are going well and I’m looking forward to next term. Admittedly, at the moment I am looking forward to winter break a little more.

Till next time,

three months in

It’s been quite a while since my last post. I know, I know, I swore up and down that I would spend more time on the blog and keep it up to date on everything going on now that I am in a Part 147 AMT program. For those who may not know, a Part 147 AMT program is a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certificated school teaching people what they need to know to get there Airframe & Powerplant mechanics certificate or A&P. The AMT stands for Aviation Maintenance Technician or Technology depending on usage. I was hoping I could keep the site updated on a frequent basis but I have been much busier than expected.

I love my A&P classes, I just had no idea that the work load would wipe me out to the extent it has. Between the constant cramming, fixing flaws in previous assumptions, and trying to keep up with “day-job” stuff, I am just too tired to do as much as I would like to.

Speaking of the day job, talk about taking a back seat. I have been lucky to get a measelly ten hours or so in each month and that has had a rather negative effect on the old pocketbook. I did manage to get some headway on a long-standing project today, not nearly as much as I would like but something.

Progress on the weight loss project has been in a bit of a stall as well. I haven’t been putting weight back on, but I haven’t been loosing it. I’m not all that worried about this one though, I have plenty of time and I am ahead of schedule in this endeavor.

There has been a bit of a shift with regard to the airplane build project. My mission goals and priorities have shifted making the VP-I/II an insufficient aircraft for my needs. I suppose this is more than a “bit of a shift” but it has come down to two options; build an airplane that won’t really meet my needs, or stop it now before I spend more money on the project. Fortunately I haven’t put much into anything that can’t be used elsewhere. Most of my current investment has been in tools, books, raw materials, and hardware.

The materials I have can be used for a couple of “practice projects” I have in mind to keep the hands busy, as if I didn’t have enough to do. Getting back on track with the build was adding to the stress pile in my mind so off-loading it has helped quite a bit. I have some options as far as getting involved in a couple repair/restoration projects and there is even the possibility of acquiring a restoration project of my own, though for the moment, I think it best not to pile anything else on my plate and focus on the tasks at hand, school and health.

That’s it for this installment, blue skies and tailwinds,

P.S. I am no longer using Facebook, my user account is still there for a while, but I have deleted all content and connections so if you want to connect or keep in touch, find me on Google+ and Twitter.

A month into AMT School

AMT classes started on August 10th at Gavilan College so it has now been a month since I started the program. For those who are not familiar with what an Aviation Maintenance Technology program is, it is a course for people who want to become an FAA certified Airframe & Powerplant mechanic often referred to as an A&P.

As one might assume, there are two primary mechanic certificates, airframe and powerplant. You can earn one or the other if you wanted to, but most people do both, hence the general reference to aircraft mechanics as A&Ps. The program is broken down into three segments General, Airframe, and Powerplant and it is completed over a two year period. Since this is through a community college they break it down into 4 semesters, sounds logical to me. Because this is an FAA recognized program (Part 147) the students have a slightly lower requirement in hours to complete for each segment, it really is a great deal.

Anyway, first year students do General which covers math, physics, aerodynamics, tools & equipment, regulations, basically all of the fundamentals and administrative stuff. The rest of time for first years is spent on Airframe where we cover material, processes, metallurgy, structures, and pretty much everything aft of the firewall. Second year students focus on the Powerplant side, or firewall forward.

I spend seven and a half hours at Gavilan Monday through Friday, 08:00-10:30 in General and 10:30-15:30 (less 0:30 for lunch) in Airframe. The first two semesters follow the same schedule and are a whopping 42 units for the two terms; next year it will be a little lighter, 08:30-15:00 (less 0:30 for lunch) Tuesday through Friday for 28 units, the whole program is 70 units, now in case this sounds a little like complaining, that couldn’t be further from the truth, I am having a great time.

Another exam on Monday so I better get back to the books.

Til next time, blue skies and tailwinds,

This time next week I’ll be sitting in class!!!

I have some more fiberglass work to do today that requires me to leave the house and pick up some materials and supplies over at TAP Plastics. With stuff in hand I can finish the big patch of repairedness by the front door and move on to the next spot tomorrow. There are three spots I have not gotten to yet. If I can get one more done before school starts that will be good. The rest will need to be done on weekends. before the wet season begins.

Not nearly as many projects got finished over the summer as I had planned, and nothing got done on the airplane mostly due to buttstucktochairwhileoncomputeritis; eh, it happens. With any luck being at school will help motivate me to work on weekend projects and if I chunk them down into smaller pieces like paint a wall and not the paint the entire stairwell including floor maybe I can find and keep my motivation to get them done.

It’s kind of funny how I am great at planing and running projects and events in the real world but when it comes to maintenance around the homestead I seem to get stalled-out. Not sure why that is, but I have ideas. We have been here 15 years as of April 1, no joke, that’s our anniversary date here, and I have been itching to move on for several years now. Not like it’s a bad gig or anything, on the contrary, it’s a really good gig that has saved our butts through bad times and has given me opportunities to pursue my own business interests, learn a ton of new skill sets in the outside world, and is now allowing me to go back to school. I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

Speaking about stalled out, the last few weeks have been one of those weight loss plateaus that picks at your resolve to hold fast and keep on track. Well I have kept on track and I am starting to see results again. I am within a few tenths of a pound of my lowest weight in several decades and a few pounds from reaching a benchmark goal. I am still logging my food and exercise and plan to continue with that. A friend recently gave me a bike so now the wife and I can go hit some of the bike trails before the weather turns, in all of my copious amounts of free time of course.

I have made a two year commitment to complete my FAA Airframe and Powerplant mechanic certificates which will be followed with some real world work experience, with any luck anyway. The plan is to start cultivating the contacts and experiences in the restoration world that will position me as a vintage/warbird restoration specialist.

There are other certificates and ratings I want to pick up along the way, most notably a senior parachute rigger certificate which ties in nicely to test piloting aircraft I restore. Another thing high on my list of certificates is to finish my flight instructor and instrument flight instructor tickets. It’s all part of the master plan that I have been working on since 2006.

Sometimes it is hard to believe I have been a pilot since 2004. I want to finish of my first decade as a pilot by reaching several aviation goals but time is quickly slipping away. The AMT program will wrap July of 2013, that will give me till ether April 24 2014, the anniversary of my first flight as a student, or October 11 2014, the date I earned my private pilot certificate. Most likely I’ll run with the October date. That will give me 15 months to reach my other goals after earning my A&P. Hey, all it takes is money and time, right?

FlyBoyJon’s First Decade of Flight Goals

As you can see I am a little better than half way there. It has certainly been an an interesting decade for me and I am looking forward to several more with a lot more aviation.

✔ Private Pilot
✔ Instrument Rating
✔ Commercial Pilot
✔ Advanced Ground Instructor
✔ Instrument Ground Instructor
O Airframe & Powerplant Mechanic
O Flight Instructor
O Instrument Flight Instructor
O Senior Parachute Rigger

As always my friends, blue skies and tailwinds,

Counting down to AMT School

Time has been flying by at an alarming rate and not in a good way. I have lots of day job stuff to get done and a short time to do it all. Motivation is sorely lacking on the mundane tasks that just need to get done. I really need to get boots on the ground to get it all done.

I haven’t had a lot to post about airplane project wise, but I have been working on my welding and composite skills for day job projects. With everything going on, the workshop has become a bit of a mess and needs another good cleaning. I only have 20 more days to get it all done because AMT school starts in three weeks.

Aside from wrestling with the lack of motivation I have been working through some technology issues for the home network. We changed ISP’s from Comcast to AT&T just shy of two weeks ago. HUGE mistake. I don’t really like ether one but in the battle of the lesser evils, Comcast wins this round.

We DSL for many years. Our line was one of the first ones in our area nearly 15 years ago, back then it was awesome. Over time service became cludgy and outages more and more frequent. We tried to go with a higher level of service but they couldn’t get good service out to us because of our distance from the switching station. Enter Comcast about 5 years ago. The service is much faster but Comcast filters some traffic for load balancing every now and then and they prioritize traffic flows in ways that don’t benefit me (selfish I know).

Since it had been some time since we switched to broadband and technology has improved over the years, Pac Bell, our original DSL provider became SBC, then AT&T, we thought the equipment in the field might have improved a bit. No such luck. Our connection was almost as slow as dial-up! Okay, that might be an exaggeration but it did take 15 minutes to load a 5 minute video and Netflix was constantly stopping and restarting, a problem we did not have with Comcast.

Saturday night I called Comcast to see what it would take to get back on line with them. I still had all of the equipment so after a 15 minute phone call we were back on line with them and our internal network was completely switched over. I was very pleased with the results of the call. With everything switched over and running back up to speed I called, well tried to call, AT&T to cancel service.

After navigating there Byzantine help system I managed to find an article on how to cancel service. The 800 number has two notes; call during business hours (Monday through Friday 8-5 Central) and In order to route your call quickly please say “cancel service” when prompted. NOT.

The first call (yes, first call) took me through there again Byzantine phone-cyborg who routed me to the wrong department who then routed me through another phone-cyborg loop which eventually put me on hold for several minutes before hanging up on me. The second call routed me better, I think the system is trained to recognize certain phrases including expletives. Once with the right department I was put on hold for 53 minutes before an agent answered the phone.

By this time I was at the point I really wanted to bite someones head off. Seeing as it isn’t the agents fault, and with the system that busy, it’s likely that most of there other callers were pissed off and they didn’t need my help in getting into a bad mood, I played it cool. The agent was very pleasant and took care of the task at hand quickly. At least the last five minutes of the ordeal was not bad. Unless AT&T runs fiber right up to my modem for free, they wont see my business again any time soon.

On the good news side of things and having a bit to do with aviation, I redid the header graphics for the site, go ahead scroll back to the top of the page if you need to but it’s just a little house cleaning. I did make some changes to the social network links. I removed the Foursquare link, mainly because I don’t think I will be using it that much longer. I added a new graphic and link to Google+. If your scratching your head saying “What’s Google+?” take a look here.

I am hoping to do more with G+ in the future. There are some great tools for group sharing and communications. If you are interested in G+ but need an invitation please let me know and I will be happy to invite you. So far I find it very promising and I am looking forward to seeing what they have in store before it is released into the wild.

Until next time, blue skies and tailwinds,