I am here today, fellow mechanics to sell you a Universal Tool. Yesss, Sir! This Universal Tool of mine will fit easily in every kind of toolbox. It will keep you out of trouble, ease your pain, serve as your guide, and be your guardian angel. It will keep the logbook police at bay, increase productivity, and might, I said might, even get you a promotion or a raise!
Too good to be true? Unbelievable, you say? Why, friends, I haven't even told you the best part. The Universal Tool is free! Intrigued, you say? Where can you get this do-all, cost-nothing tool? Why, it is free from the United States Government!
First of all, the Universal Tool's real name is the "Personal Minimums Checklist." Yes, it is true that it is free from the government, but it was designed by real, honest-to-goodness mechanics that the Feds kept in a locked room and fed only bread and water, until they came up with a method to ensure that the work mechanics performed was airworthy. Okay, I confess, I stretched the truth a bit about the bread and water thing.
The incarcerated mechanics' checklist solution, their Universal Tool to ensure airworthiness, is printed on a shiny cardboard card that resists oil and other mild solvents in the short term but will dissolve right in front of your eyes if you hit it with Skydrol™ or one of its chemical cousins. So, you've got to treat the card with a little respect. The card is designed to fit inside your toolbox's top lid, to serve as a visible reminder that here is a checklist designed to be used. The operative word here is used. The checklist should not be used for toolbox decorative purposes like a hood ornament on a 1948 Buick or as a "Look at me boss, I am a professional" management attention-getter.
The checklist is easy to use. On the front side of the checklist are 10 questions that you should ask yourself before you start the task, and on the back there are 10 more questions that you should ask after the task is completed. The questions are designed in a Yes/No format. If you answer any of the questions on either side with a NO, then you either should not start the task or sign it off until the NO on the appropriate side is changed into a YES.
Once you use it a couple times you will figure it out that on the Before the Task side of the checklist, six questions are pretty much based on the regulations. While it does dabble in some regulatory things, five of the questions on the After the Task side get uncomfortably close and personal to that one spot in our head where all mechanics live.
Let me explain what I mean by running you through the checklist questions using the example of changing a fuel cell bladder in a Cessna.
Before the task:
Do I Have the Knowledge to Perform the Task?
If you've never seen a Cessna before or have only a fuzzy notion of what a fuel bladder is, have the boss reassign you to another job or get someone who knows what to do to work with you.
Do I Have the Technical Data to Perform the Task?
No data, no work. You are not allowed to wing it. Uncle Sam takes a dim view of mechanics that use the "guessing" method of maintenance and, if caught installing a tank without reference data, you could be in violation of section 43.13 (a).
Have I Performed the Task Previously?
Okay, you can identify a Cessna, but if you've never put in a bladder tank before and attempt to make the repair, you would be in violation of section 65.81, Privileges and limitations. Even if you are the best mechanic there ever was, the old adage is still true: All self-taught mechanics have a fool for an instructor!
Have I the Proper Tools and Equipment to Perform the Task?
This requirement is right from section 43.13. It does not mean that you must individually own all the tools in the world, but you should have available to you the tools needed to complete the task, and those tools should be serviceable and calibrated as required.
Have I Had the Proper Training to Support the Job Task?
If you never had any training in fuel systems other than changing filters or lines, ask an experienced mechanic for some OJT. Sometimes just the act of admitting that we are lacking is the first giant step towards attaining wisdom.
Am I Mentally Prepared to Perform the Job Task?
Are you stressed out, running on emotional empty, do you have problems at home or work that cause distraction? Quite frankly, you can get hurt. Here is a true confession. In 1973, I almost killed myself when I successfully disassembled a pressurized landing strut because I was thinking more about my girlfriend than what I was doing. Shaken, I learned that day that love is blind and cupid is armed!
Am I Physically Prepared to Perform the Task?
If you are physically exhausted hung over, sick, or injured, back away from the job. To be a super mechanic in other mechanics' eyes is a loser's script. You are setting yourself up for a major disaster whose results might end your long and promising career, or even worse, end your fellow mechanic's career.
Have I Taken the Proper Safety Precautions to Perform the Task?
Have you grounded the aircraft to a proper ground? Have you disconnected the aircraft electrical system? Are you using explosion-proof flashlights or trouble lights? Can the residue fuel be contained and disposed of? Do you have the proper mask and gloves? Eye wash available? Ventilation? The list can be quite extensive.
Do I Have the Resources Available to Perform the Task?
Resources such as jacks, rags, buckets, ladders/stands, extra help when needed, tape, as well as a dry, well-lit, comfortable place to work?
Have I Researched the FARs to Ensure Compliance?
Ah, the regulations, bane of the mechanic's existence, yet at the same time, they are the standard by which we are measured. For our fuel bladder tank installation, you should look and see if the new fuel tank meets Part 21, specifically section 21.303 for replacement parts, and of course, good old Part 43 for performance standards and record keeping.
After the task:
Did I Perform the Job Task to the Best of My Abilities?
This is getting on the personal side. Did I do my best job? How could I have done better? This question is designed to make you perform a little retrospective inspection, similar to what we all did on the morning of the second day of our honeymoon.
Was the Job Task Performed to Be Equal to the Original?
This means the task must meet its original type design or properly altered condition. Growing up in the maintenance field, I was always told that you could meet the type design requirements if you did the work equal to, or better than, the original. Imagine my surprise when I found out that "equal to" meets section 43.13 (b) rule all right, but if I made the repair better than the original CAR 3 requirements, like replacing the metal fuel line with a flexible one, then I performed an alteration. The alteration could be either minor or major, but either way, because I made an alteration in addition to a repair by "making it better than," alteration requires a separate sign off.
Was the Job Task Performed in Accordance with Appropriate Data?
This is pretty easy to answer if your data meets the "3C" rule. The data should be Current, Correct, and Complete. If the data meets the rule, then answer, Yes.
Did I Use All the Methods, Techniques, and Practices Acceptable to the Industry?
Short of installing the fuel tank with a pitchfork, just following the maintenance manual or instructions is all that you need to do to answer a Yes here.
Did I Perform the Task Without Pressure, Stress, and Distractions?
Again, this is a personal question. All jobs have stress, pressures and distractions. My son can do his homework, listening to acid rock that is so loud that it would melt earwax. While, I on the other hand, I get distracted if I hear Jell-O™ harden in a bowl. This is a judgment call that can only be made by the individual mechanic.
Did I Reinspect My Work or Have Someone Inspect My Work Before It Was Returned to Service?
Review the steps you performed using the maintenance manual or have someone else check your work. Two sets of eyes always see better than one set.
Did I Make the Proper Record Entries for the Work Performed?
The record keeping entry requirements are found in section 43.9. Don't forget to identify the data used and part or serial number of the parts you replaced. You do not have to declare in writing in the aircraft records that the new tank installation is airworthy and approved for return to service — your signature and certificate number make that statement for you.
Did I Perform the Operational Checks After the Work Was Completed?
Again, take the time to follow all of the manufacturer's instructions and this becomes an easy Yes answer.
Am I Willing to Sign On the Bottom Line for the Work Performed?
On the bottom line of the maintenance record, we should autograph only excellence and rework anything less.
Am I Willing to Fly in the Aircraft Once It Is Approved for Return to Service?
This is the single, defining question that defines and consolidates the previous 19 checklist questions. This is the question that defines where we live. If a mechanic will not fly his or her work, then they are in the wrong career field. If they do not have confidence in their work, then their career has become a hollow endeavor and we are better off without them.
Now, if I sold you on this personal checklist idea, ask the Safety Program Manager at the local FSDO for your own. If the local FSDO is out of them, not to worry, I just ordered 30,000, and if they have not arrived yet at your FSDO, they will be there shortly. I also ordered 1,000 Personal Minimums Checklist videos, targeted at management.
The FAA's safety program goal is to have a well-thumbed checklist for every toolbox big or small and a blown-up version of the checklist hanging in every hangar. It will take us a couple of years to get everyone to start using the Universal Tool, but we can pull it off with your help and cooperation