On Thursday myself and 9 others went to the Midland Air Museum at Baginton for our first hands-on activity of the year. The intention of the activity was to provide an insight into aerospace practices and the traits of a good aviation maintenance manager.

The tasks allocated to the two groups were not in and of themselves difficult to achieve. However, the teaching behind them and the attention to detail in even these most basic of tasks was what the entire morning was about. Split into 2 groups of 5, my group was tasked with working on the anti-torque rotor assembly powertrain, and each member was given a task to complete as manager.

Run as close to a real-world tasking as possible, the initial task manager’s priority was identifying, and where possible mitigating, hazards currently present or likely to materialise during the work. Basic items such as slips, trips and falls, missing pitot covers, tool control and agreed upon processes were all covered highlighting the importance of always ensuring even the most basic of points are covered so as to remain fresh in the mind of those involved.

A case and point safety in maintenance is seen throughout the whole of the Royal Air Force (RAF), where it is brought about by making it part of the service’s ethos that it is everyone’s responsibility- directly involved in flying programs or not. Simple things like Foreign Object Debris (FOD) being thought about and contained throughout the station goes some way to showing just how dedicated to safe operations, and how even small things such as litter can have severe if not fatal consequences. The RAF’s Flight Safety posters are all available under Crown copyright here.

RAF’s “Earth it before it earths you!” Safety Poster

With our particular tasking, the job card had the very first action being to make the aircraft electrically safe. Now since the university’s Scout has been a ‘dead’ airframe for more than 15 years, it was safe to say it wasn’t likely to be giving anybody a shock! In a real-world situation, however, you would ground the aircraft, and where necessary disconnect a hot battery bus to prevent electrocution. With the Health & Safety briefing, primary task briefing and initial safety considerations put into place it was my turn as team manager.

As all necessary preliminaries were completed, I set about outlining the procedure the team would need to follow in removing the relevant panels and covers. Noting that there were 4 team members plus myself, I split the team in 2 with one team undoing the fastenings on the port side, and the others the starboard. I requested that the panels be removed in a methodical approach starting closest to the engine and working rearwards. As there was ample space in the hangar I also directed the team to place the panels in the same order in which they came off, so as to easily identify which panel came from where. We also took care not to scratch the panels by placing them skin side up to prevent contact with the surface on which they were laid, and also by the simple act of using two hands on the screwdriver to prevent slipping when the quarter-turn quick release fasteners invariably gave way. Precautions such as this may seem minor, but it is important to note that paint is usually the first if not only barrier between the base material and the atmosphere, thereby preventing corrosion; keeping that barrier for as long as possible prevents unnecessary replacement or repair which of course comes at a cost.

The only challenge encountered in my short segment was that one of the panels was unreachable, except by deviating from the sequence described in the Scheduled Maintenance Procedures (SMP). A quick assessment revealed, as you would expect, that no harm would come in reversing the order in which these panels were removed, and the problem was therefore very easily solved. In more critical and complex tasks it is worth noting that deviation may produce a ‘hole in the Swiss cheese’, or latent error in human factors terms and that the actions you take may, in fact, alter the aircraft downtime, and the number of maintenance tasks required. As an exaggerated but clear hypothetical example, should you find that removing a particular Line Replaceable Unit (LRU) requires the disconnecting of a hydraulic line to allow you to manoeuvre it, once the line has been reconnected it would follow that a hydraulic system check is required to some level to ensure that your action has not had an adverse affect on this secondary system. With this in mind, any deviation from the SMP should not be conducted in a blase manner. Put simply, failing to follow the SMP in its methodical approach is likely to cause problems and should never be condoned as a routine exercise as potentially critical elements of the task may be omitted. However, should the need arise to do so, it is essential that an informal assessment is conducted to determine the dangers that may become present in doing so. As soon as possible always return to the SMP and continue following the sequence as laid out in the documentation.

10 minutes later and with the next set of instructions read from the SMP it was time to relinquish my position as a task manager and hand over control to the next team member. This process continued until all tasks were completed and every team member had assumed control. During the remaining tasks, we encountered a couple of interesting problem-solving situations, such as how to mount the magnetic base Dial Test Indicator (DTI) assembly to the tail to measure the run-out of the power transfer shafts.

Although in many ways for myself the tasking was a refresher of leadership skills ingrained into me during my time as a cadet, I found it refreshing to apply the skills again and to take the opportunity to learn new perspectives and techniques from my peers. A great difference in the two organisations really highlighted the necessity for fluid soft, or colloquially known ‘people-skills’. A military ethos allows for an autocratic leadership style to be employed in situations particularly of tight time-constraint such as this tasking, however, university students who are all equals save for being told at that moment in time you have control lends itself to the need for a more tactful approach. The common denominator I feel is a universal truth, in either case, is the need as the responsible manager or leader to act with a decisive confidence, even if this means having the integrity to accept when you may not have made the correct decision. Coupling this with the ability to listen to your team twice as much as you provide direction produces an effective leadership trait that requires constant refining as part of the personal development journey, and is key in accomplishing the skill to avoid becoming engrossed in the task, allowing you to step back for an outside view to avoid various levels of oversight, be that for example safety based or simple ‘big picture’ relevance.

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