I still teach two- or three-day classes at least once a month in human factors and FARs to mechanics and repair station personnel. Usually, right at the beginning of a human factors class I ask my students to answer what I consider is the hardest question in the world. I tell them it’s the world’s hardest question because only they can answer it, and the answer has to be true, because they can’t lie or put a political spin on the answer.
Once I get their attention, I tell my students to take a couple of minutes and answer the question: “Who are you?” At first blush, I can see in their eyes that they consider it a really dumb question, and their instructor is an idiot. Well I might be an idiot, but I am a persistent one. So I make the question a bit more complex when I add just two more words to the question. The words are “Character and Integrity.” I then tell them on a scale from 1-10 with 10 being the best and 1 the worst, rate your own character and integrity.
Character, I explain, is who you are when no one else is around, and Integrity is how you deal with other people. Now I never see their answers, it’s none of my business, but at least all the members of my class have tentatively identified in their own mind the “human” in my human factors class.
Then I move from the profound to the ridiculous and ask them if they ever had problems talking with pilots? Well that lights up the classroom discussion and a few tell war stories that cast aspersions on some poor pilot’s family tree they claim has no branches or that his mother answers to the name: Spot!
Before it gets out of hand I then ask the question: “Why can’t mechanics and pilots get along?” “Why can’t we communicate?” No one on either side of the fence can give me an answer, because it’s always the other guy’s fault. So I walk to the easel and write the words mechanic and pilot and proceed to write down the profile or attributes of each.
Now, before I get into explaining the differences between mechanics and pilots I have a disclaimer statement to make. Not all mechanics display the attributes I have listed nor do all pilots. But I sincerely believe that most mechanics and pilots have many of the attributes that I have described. I myself am hard over on the mechanic side of the line so I am not picking on mechanics for the fun of it. Now to justify my examples.
Mechanics are conservative people. We are the steady Eddies of the world. I usually ask my students how many have bought a watch at Wal-Mart or Kmart for under $50 and wear the same watch to work and church on Sunday. Well the hands tell me that almost everyone does. Mechanics figure, why pay for two watches when one tells the time.
Pilots are risk takers because flying is inherently risky. They like the fact that they are risk takers and they buy very expensive watches with many dials and knots that can calculate the orbits of Jupiter’s moons. For the most part the watch is useless in the cockpit but it is used as a risk-taker’s badge not to tell the time, but to identify to the world that he or she is in the risky business of being a pilot.
Mechanics are poor communicators. Aviation mechanics are for the most part closed mouth souls, who quietly go about their business of fixing aircraft. High school English was not one of our favorite subjects. I still don’t know what a dangling participle is. For the other attributes listed below mechanics do not have a burning need to explain themselves. Many of us find it hard to write a letter and if we must we deliberately keep it short and sweet.
Pilots are good communicators. Mechanics’ unobtrusive approach to spoken or written word is in stark contrast to the endless self-promoting repartee of our flying brethren. Pilots are in love with words and especially writing. Their most creative and inspirational writings are found justifying each trip’s expense account.
I have put together a list of lessons learned that I wish someone had given me when I was a brand new, right out of the box, aircraft mechanic.
The path to Inspection Authorization
A few weeks ago, while sequestered in my D.C. cubicle, and trying to tease some common sense out of notes left over from the brainstorming session the day before, I got my first irate phone call...