A one-time school project gone terribly, terribly wrong.

19 September 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am Reminded ...

Former Frontier Editor, in a casual comment on my post below, has reminded me of a man I knew (and still know to this day, thanks to the miracle of social networking).

"Mack" was a truck driver in the Canadian Armed Forces back before they changed its name to simply the Canadian Forces ... dunno why, I mean it's not like they're unarmed or anything ... although they're definitely underequipped. In 1996, he was on his third military trade.

We met back during our militia days (for the benefit of US-based Avid Fans I should point out that in Canada the Militia is one branch of our equivalent to the National Guard and not, as I have observed to my horror, a bunch of people who would wear camouflage to their Neighborhood Watch meetings if their wives permitted it, and feel that there just aren't enough guns in the public school system).

I have to say that it seems odd to me that they ever allowed Mack to enlist as a safety systems tech. Like me, he'd never finished high school, and he was exactly the sort of big, bearish, friendly kind of dope you need to lug the mortar base plate (the 100-lb slab of steel that holds the base of a short-barrelled artillery piece) in an infantry section.

But recruitment depends on a remarkable number of factors--What unit and trade the recruiting officer or NCO comes from, whether they like you, what the actual recruiting targets are, whether the moon is in Pisces, how big your boobs are ... In any case, he wound up servicing Tutor jets on the tarmac in Moose Jaw, which was where I met him for the second time.

His early months weren't happy ones. Nine months after arriving he managed to set fire to two aircraft and part of a hangar in a mishap involving aircraft brake fluid and oxygen--two substances that spontaneously and happily combust in one anothers' presences.

Three months after that he was apparently servicing an aircraft which had undergone some sort of retrofit. He had had familiarization training on the new system, but hadn't worked on it for a year or more since. He had finished servicing the line of aircraft and was turning his mule (a little tow truck used to move the service cart around) toward home when there was a godawful WHHHHEEEOOOOSHHHHHH followed by a loud BANG.

In servicing the ejection system, one was apparently supposed to label one handle, move another to a position labelled "disarm", service the unit, re-set the switches and check the physical safeties (release pins and suchlike), then re-set the system by reversing the procedure. He'd done something wrong. The seat landed on a taxiway almost a kilometre distant.

No-one got hurt, but it was a damn near thing. In thirty minutes there might have been a pilot in that machine.

The effect of launching the ejection seat damaged the airframe. The Tutor was probably worth about $200,000 at that time. This one had to be extensively re-skinned and rebuilt.

Now I have only his word for what happened. But I did see the aircraft in the repair shop with most of the skin off of its nose. And it is an observed fact that he was off-duty for three weeks, and then quickly reassigned to the loadmaster trade.

Loadmasters, as the name implies, are responsible for the loading and balancing of aircraft. Yeah ... Your eyes just got a little wider, didn't they? I'll tell you about what happened next in another post.

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At 10:53 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was a pseudo-erk - I worked for a contractor operating aviation safety and physiology training devices at Naval Air Station Norfolk. I still remember three of us physically assaulting a sailor who thought it was a great idea to leak-test the valve on an O2 tank by squirting a little 3-In-1 around the threads. One day I'll share a couple of stories . . .


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