Memory Upgrade

July 1, 2002
Developing a technical resource book

If you are like me, it seems that every day, just earning a living in aviation is getting more complex. I got my A&P back in 1968. So I am old enough to remember a time when getting good, accurate information was a mechanic’s biggest problem. Now thanks to the computer, the Internet, and single CDROM disks that hold enough data to fill several filing cabinets, we mechanics now have access to more technical information then we can handle and it can be somewhat overwhelming.

So I cope with information overload by ram dumping an equal amount of old bytes or bits for each brand new incoming byte or bit. This constant adding and subtracting of data slows down my memory’s overall processing time, which in turn causes cognitive downtime or what Generation Xers call a "senior moment."

What I needed was a memory upgrade, but I didn’t know how to make it happen. It took a salesman to get me to buy into the idea of a painless approach to a memory enhancement. This particular salesman’s name is Rodger Holmstrom. Rodger is the FAA’s Airworthiness Safety Program manager for the Birmingham FSDO. He is also the Webmaster for the Birmingham FSDO web page. For Internet surfers it is worth your time to check out his handiwork and vast amount of information he has made available at I am sure his website will be listed under your favorites.

Personal Resource Book

Like I said, Rodger is the progenitor of the memory upgrade idea and like all great ideas the overall concept is simple in design. Rodger calls his memory upgrade for mechanics the Personal Resource Book or PRB. The PRB is a powerful networking tool that you build for yourself over time to fit your own needs. You don’t have to get fancy, just start with a threering binder and maybe a few dividers. Rodger suggests that you first organize the PRB into system categories: Electrical systems, Hydraulic systems, Fuel systems, Engines, Airframes, etc. You can add categories and subdivide categories into sections to meet your individual needs. For example, under the Engines category, you could add individual sections for each type of engine you routinely work on.

Rodger tells this story about how his PRB idea was born.

Years ago I was based on a small airport running a three-man shop, two uncertified helpers and myself. We were part of the local FBO. While talking with the technical representative at one of my engine parts sources, the tech-rep said, "Ralph said you should . . . (Whatever)" So I wrote the name "Ralph" on my desk pad. The next day I called my engine parts source and asked for Ralph. When Ralph answered I said, "Hi Ralph, my name is Rodger Holmstrom. I buy a lot of parts from your company, I’ve heard your name used as the engine expert and I just wanted to get to know an engine guru in person." As we talked, I was taking notes. About two weeks later, the evening news said the high school football team where Ralph’s son played had won the city championship game. The next day I called and congratulated Ralph. About two months later a Piper Saratoga landed and the pilot/owner asked me to look at his engine while he was doing business in town and give him a report when he returned. I ran the engine. It was rough and weak. Next I performed a compression test. One of the cylinders showed only about 5 psi, with air coming out the exhaust. I said to myself, "he’s got a burned exhaust valve." I called my engine parts source and asked the tech-rep for a burned valve repair price quote. Minutes later Ralph called me and asked me to do a flow check on the fuel injectors. He said you might have a "tuliped valve." If there is a restriction in the fuel line leading to that cylinder, the resulting lean mixture could have caused some detonation. The leaking exhaust valve may be just a symptom of another problem.

I performed the flow check and sure enough the flow to that injector was lower than all the other injectors. I called Ralph and said, "Ralph, you’re a genius!" He replied, "Remove the fuel system firewall forward and have it cleaned, inspected, and tested. We’ll replace the valve, valve seat, and rings; inspect the piston and cylinder; and hone the cylinder for new rings." I said, "Yes sir. And thank you very much."

When the pilot/owner of the Saratoga returned he asked if I had looked at his airplane and what I found. I replied, "There’s a restriction in a fuel line leading to one of your cylinders, resulting in a lean mixture that caused some detonation, which in turn damaged the exhaust valve. You should have your fuel system thoroughly cleaned firewall forward and the damaged valve replaced."

It’s important to note that until that instant the pilot/owner of the Saratoga had projected a greater-than-thee attitude toward me. He immediately changed. He looked me in the eyes and in a sincere warm and friendly manner he said, "Thank you, I want to show you something." He brought his aircraft logbooks into my office and showed me that in the past year his engine had been worked on twice. Both times were for the repair of burned exhaust valves on that cylinder. Then he said, "You’re the best mechanic I’ve ever met. I’ll be back and I’ll send my friends too." I said, "Thank you very much."

In another life I had been a salesman. I remembered the first step in making a sale was to sell yourself. In order to sell yourself, you must show an interest in your prospective buyer. Remembering a person’s name and little tidbits about them elevates their opinion of you. I realized the reason Ralph had offered his advice was because I was his friend and friends help one another. I also realized it is just not possible for me to know everything I need to know to do my job. I needed more friends like Ralph.

While talking to the repair station customer service rep where I sent the fuel system for cleaning and testing, I heard the name Terry. The next day I called and asked for Terry. Terry and I hit it off immediately, became good friends, and we still are today. I developed a reputation of being a fuel system expert in my neck of the woods. People would call and ask a question, I would say, "Let me think about that and I’ll call you back." I would call Terry, ask him, and then call the person back with the correct answer.

It’s important to understand that keeping track of the valuable notes I used to help develop friendships, and other tidbits of information I choose to keep handy, was very challenging. I needed a way to be more organized. A three-ring binder! Using a ruler, I partitioned a sheet of notebook paper into three zones. I placed two smaller zones across the top of the paper with company and product information in the top left zone, and names and phone numbers of my points of contact in the top right zone. The rest of the sheet of notebook paper became my all-important notes zone. At first my notebook was very skinny. All I started with was four sheets of paper. But with daily use, it grew into my most treasured source of knowledge.

To start your own PRB you should include the names and telephone numbers of repair stations that you deal with, along with your suppliers and vendors that you depend on for parts and services. You could include information such as their web page address.

This is pretty much straightforward stuff. You probably have similar technical/supplier information stashed around your office or toolbox, or maybe it’s even on your laptop. So what’s the big deal about making up a PRB? The big deal comes in when you use the PRB for networking. In each of the sections that you build you should include names, emails, and telephone/cell/fax numbers of industry experts who you trust and have the information to solve problems that no one else can. Under each name you should build a "dossier" on your industry expert. The dossier should include background information, personal likes and dislikes, area of expertise, name of spouse, kids, etc. that you pick up over time from phone calls or personal contact.

Create a network

Knowing something more than a telephone number about the person you are doing business with is really a good business practice. It is called networking. Imagine for a moment that you are a long-suffering tech rep for an airframe manufacturer and it’s your job to handle service calls from pilot/owners and mechanics in the field. Every day, you hear the same gripes, complaints, and calls for help from angry people. Then one day, you get a call from a mechanic who knows your first name, asks you about your kid’s soccer games. You’ve done business with this guy before, but you are surprised at his remembering that your son is in the honor society in school. Would you be more inclined to help him? Would you go the extra mile to pull his fat from the fire? Most of us would. Why? Because he took the time to build a personal relationship with you as well as a business one.

Build your reputation

On the other side of the phone, our mechanic’s hard work building his PRB network dossiers is now paying off. He is getting good advice from his newfound friends to help solve problems. By using good networking skills and building a personal relationship with industry experts our mechanic can routinely solve the tough problems faster than his competitors. His reputation as a good mechanic will spread and his business will flourish.

However, there is one problem you will experience building your PRB. Since our aviation maintenance industry is constantly changing, your PRB will never be finished or 100 percent accurate all the time. You will have to constantly revise, add, or subtract information almost every time you make a phone call.

But it is a small price to pay for a memory upgrade.

About the Author

Bill O'Brien