Small Changes Can Create Big Problems

Zac Noble 2019 Summer

It's never too hot to pause and think.

There’s been a heat wave this summer that has had people looking for ways to stay cool. The problem is, these high air temps can cause us to change habits or do things that we would not normally do. And even small changes to normal shop procedures can have unintended and unwanted consequences.

Here is the particular situation that I observed recently. The hangar faces east. It was early in the morning, but it was one of those days where it was already 82 degrees by 8 am. The sun was beating in with such intensity that the maintenance technician decided to not raise the hangar door all the way, as he normally would.

Instead, he only partially raised it—about ­three-quarters of the normally raised height. This way, it still let in some light and air but screened out the direct rays of the sun. It was still hot in the hangar (it’s not air-conditioned), but lowering the door definitely made it more comfortable.

The work proceeded as normal. When it was time to test it, the technician hooked up the tow bar and proceeded to tow the aircraft out of the hangar.

STOP! That was close!

The brand-new zero-time Hartzell propeller was about 4 inches from needing its first prop-strike inspection—before it had made a single rotation under power.

What happened to cause this? It was the typical cause-and-effect chain of events.

Environmental conditions—the hot sun—caused the maintenance technician to change how he normally worked. That change was necessary; working in direct sun on a day with 90-plus temperatures could also create hazards, as technicians may hurry their work to get to a cooler environment. However, any change—even one so minor as adjusting a door—must be thought through.

Technicians are often forced to work in environmentally challenging conditions, including cold, rain, or even intense sunlight. Maybe you have to pause work every so often and go inside to warm up on a winter day. Maybe you have to lay out your tools in a different way to keep them dry.

When things change in your work space or you change your routine, take the time to stand back and look at the big picture. What changes did you make and how did they affect the job? What should you do differently to ensure that these conditions don’t affect the quality of your work?

Don’t let your tunnel vision get in the way of completing each project safely and efficiently. In my helicopter career, I have seen many instances similar to this one, when rotor blades nearly took a hit—and in some cases, actually did.

Yes, me and MY propeller are OK. You can bet I will not make that mistake again any time soon.

Fugere tutum!

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