Hot and Cold

Sept. 1, 2006
From eco-Nazis to seven-day deodorant ... Tony handles it all.

As the human race staggers its way onward toward a hotter world I can only feel compassion for those of us who work outside. A lot of people do, but not many of them have to work in a world of noise and danger that we in the aircraft business exist in. Noise comes with the territory and even the latest types of aircraft are not something your neighbors would appreciate in your backyard. This reminds me, a friend of mine, who has written very good books on the history of aircraft engines, is an avid collector of, yes, aircraft engines. Not little ones, big ones like the engines out of World War II fighters. Not only that, he restores them and actually runs them on beautiful trailers he has fabricated.

Noise? He took his latest and near rarest of engines, a Continental IV-1430, to an air show where he proudly cranked it up and pulled some power. It's rated at 1,600-hp which is respectable even now. Twelve very short exhaust stacks blatted out their song, unheard for some fifty years. True lovers of engines reveled in the beat but some eco-Nazis complained about the noise pollution and the show promoters clamped down. Too noisy for an air show! Huh?

To see pictures of him and his proud engine cranking in a burst of smoke, go to and see "The Art and Fun of Collecting Aircraft Engines," by Graham White. If nothing else you will appreciate the job of fabricating an over-the-road trailer to support and run two-tons or more of engine and accessories. Not just an engine mount either but a true work of beauty.

Back to heat. I can remember laboring over a very large, hot engine and my eyeglasses pooling with sweat. Makes for a poor view too, a big heavy generator that you are struggling to extract from amidst a tangle of lines and cables. I used to go down in weight every summer, sweat it off. I wish it would come off that easily now.

They used to sell something called "Seven-Day" deodorant. It was supposed to protect you for the full period between your weekly baths. It failed in the first ten minutes when you were sweating over a hot engine. Glasses were a handicap at times like that but one appreciated them when hit with a spray of hot oil or hydraulic fluid, better on the glasses than in the eye. Weekly baths? A lot of folks believed in that and you could identify them too, but they smelled better than the ones that avoided them for even longer periods. There are still some of those folks around that I invariably get to sit near when on long flights in coach. It's amazing how much sweat you can put out and it seems to tie into the mental effort you have to put in. Trying to put a bitty little bolt and washer into an inaccessible hole in a clamp and then squeeze the clamp and try to start a nut on it is rendered into exquisite torture when sweat runs into your eye. It's even better if the engine is still hot and singeing you and someone is telling you they desperately need that air conditioner and please can't you pick it up a little? The sweat just pours off one when under that stress. The problem with heat of course is you can't dress for it. You can only take off so much, but then the company's dress code kicks in or the police get called.

Another funny thing is that sweat is conductive, at least it increases your conductivity. Normally you can't feel anything from a 28 volts DC terminal, which used to be primary power on aircraft. While working on a front cylinder of an aircraft engine, I was getting this irritating dig from an exposed terminal on the prop governor. It felt like it was a piece of safety wire—it turned out it was the 28 V that it was charged with on the sweaty soft skin of the inside of my arm. Annoying, but not dangerous and also a reminder that there are other hot things on equipment than temperature. Working on an asphalt ramp in the summer is especially delicious. You are the frank or the burger, the sun is the charcoal and the ramp is the grill. I have to salute our military guys and gals who work on the equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan. No matter your politics, you have to take it off for them serving in a far hotter, sandier and just plain lousy to-be-in place. At least I never had to shake camel spiders out of my shoes before I put them on.

Some things ripen in the summer. Biffy trucks for one are something to avoid if possible. Never good at any time of the year they only get worse as the heat rises. The tricherator where you dump the truck also increases its aroma with the heat. A catering truck left out in the hot sun with old food on board can be detected far downwind.

There are some good moments in the hottest of the summer. Driving an open tug around the airport on the service road to get from the hangar to the ramp is great. You can feel that wind blowing over you. That is living and you can boast your vehicle costs more than a Maseratti. There's always taking the kids to the beach or the pool and don't forget to wear sunscreen and drink lots of fluids.