Breaking Airplanes

Ask any AME (airplane mechanic) what pilots do all day and the list will include "break airplanes." Pilots can get affronted at this attitude, but honestly, look at it from the point of view of the guys in the coveralls. They pull a serviceable airplane out of the hangar, hand it over to pilots, and the next time they see the airplane, it's broken again. I've just accepted their viewpoint and will cheerily stride into their hangar to announce, "I've broken another airplane."

When something goes wrong with an airplane, the pilots are legally required to write it down in the airplane's journey log, a book that reports who flew the airplane, where, when and how long it took. Literally every minute the airplane is in the air is recorded. "Dear Diary, Today I flew to Pickle Lake. Again." Any defect reported in the journey log must be repaired, officially deferred, or confirmed acceptable under the minimum equipment list, before the airplane can be dispatched to fly.

In Canada airplane non-workingness is referred to as a snag, and that's a verb, too, as in "the Navajo is snagged again" or "Call maintenance, please. I just snagged Romeo Charlie." When you write a snag, you want it to be concise, precise and in the correct terminology. You may spend a moment summoning the fewest words to convey the problem. "Nosewheel oleo flat" or "Eng #1 L mag rough." Pilots aren't supposed to diagnose the problem, just report the observation. After all, I don't know whether it's the alternator, the voltage regulator or a wire that has broken. I just know that I see a discharge on the ammeter when it's supposed to be charging. Maintenance diagnoses and fixes the problem, then writes a corresponding entry to indicate what they did in answer to the pilot's complaint. A common one is "no fault found" or "ground checked ok," meaning that it doesn't look broken to them. Then if the problem persists the pilot has to come up with more detail or a way to reproduce it.

There's a list of humourous journey log entries that you may come across. Please do not forward it to any pilot or AME. Yes it's funny the first few times. But we've seen it. We can quote it from memory. It appears over five thousand times on the internet. Really. I googled it.

Recently I had to snag an item in an airplane and I spent a moment, pen poised over paper, composing the entry. Finally I just wrote, "Com 1 frequency selection knob fell off." There's no "cool" way to say that a knob fell off the radio. I handed the knob to the mechanic along with the journey log.