You Can’t Do It Alone

STORY BY AE2 JESSE MORGAN, HSC-3

Aviation Structural Mechanic 3rd Class Tyler Clausen signals an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter as it prepares to land. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Josue L. Escobosa)

Aviation Structural Mechanic 3rd Class Tyler Clausen signals an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter as it prepares to land. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Josue L. Escobosa)

It was a routine night at the MH-60S Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) located on Naval Air Station North Island, Calif. The FRS is generally considered a high-tempo training command that routinely executes a daily flight schedule requiring five MH-60S aircraft, which sometimes begins shortly after daybreak and goes well into the night. At the time, I was assigned to work center 220, the aviation electrician (AE) shop, and working as the night shift supervisor. I worked alongside an AE collateral duty inspector (CDI) and two other AE maintainers, all of which were tasked with routine aircraft troubleshooting and maintenance.

I typically assigned the CDI and one maintainer to tend to flight line troubleshooting and, workload permitting, other maintenance tasks that was considered small in nature. This gave me the opportunity to focus on the discrepancies that required more in-depth troubleshooting that were often on down aircraft. As the only 220 collateral duty quality assurance representative (CDQAR) on the night shift, I occasionally peeled myself away from projects to ensure the 220 shop was doing its part to keep the flight schedule running and assist the AE CDI with tough matters that arouse throughout the shift. It was not uncommon for me to work on four to nine different aircraft throughout the night. The FRS most certainly lived up to its reputation and provided a very dynamic environment that required constant attention and flexibility at any given time. Those who have ever worked at an FRS would most certainly agree.

Now, my hot ticket discrepancy for the night was aircraft 14. It was scheduled to fill one of the five aircraft requirements for the flight schedule the next day. It had downing discrepancies that caused the embedded global positioning/inertial navigation system (EGI) and automatic flight control system (AFCS) circuit breaker to pop whenever external power was applied to the aircraft. In addition, the backup hydraulic pump would not turn on. The gripes were discovered the night before and this was my first time looking at them.

As I was reviewing the troubleshooting steps that had already been completed and wrote down the in-process (IP) inspection block of the maintenance action form (MAF), I formulated a plan of attack for the gripes associated with aircraft 14. My shift just started and the flight schedule was well under way. Soon after the night shift had relieved the day shift is when multiple AE troubleshooters were called to the flight line for multiple incoming aircraft. The flight schedule has number one priority, so my project for the night was put on hold.

After a few hours, the work tempo slowed down enough for me to start tending to the three downing gripes on aircraft 14. I informed the Chiefs in maintenance control that I may need to swap the No.1 and No.2 direct current (DC) converters because the previous IPs stated that the aircraft had a No.1 DC converter caution light. This was after the wiring continuity/power checks for the DC converters had been completed and were found to be working as advertised. I wanted to start troubleshooting the backup pump because there was a high probability that the No.1 DC converter caution light was originating from a malfunctioning backup pump.

Another AE and I began the troubleshooting process by removing the No.1 DC converter. We made note of the external wires that were connected to the electrical terminals on the outside of the box. There was a positive wire running from the forward part of the cabin that was connected to the forward positive terminal. The negative wire ran up to the box from the aft side of the cabin and led to the aft negative terminal. I concluded that since there were only two wires, during removal process, I would just move the positive wiring forward and the negative aft in order to differentiate the two prior to reinstalling. Altering the maintenance procedure was just the first in a series of errors that occurred this very evening. The maintenance publication also called for the terminal cover to be removed prior to the removal of the terminal leads.

The terminal cover had two flathead screws located in a confined area and was difficult to reach, which made removing the screws an extremely slow and a painstaking task. In an attempt to be more efficient, I devised a plan that took down the No.1 DC converter first, so that it could be repositioned and allowed for more access to the cover. That gave us more room to fit the regular flat head screwdriver inside the tight space and sped up the process of removing the cover. It worked like a charm however this new and “improvised” method of removal required two people. This was not very convenient because I didn’t have another AE to assist with the job.

Soon, another error was about to occur. I was now going to inspect my own work. We had the No. 1 DC converter down in no time and were ready to remove the No. 2 DC converter. Having figured out the No. 1 side, we used the same methods and applied to the No. 2 side. Once the No. 2 DC converter was removed, we installed it on the No. 1 side for troubleshooting. I knew that most of dDC electrical power could be supplied by only using one converter and that most of aircraft lighting was powered by the DC converters. The troubleshooting logic was if everything powered up as normal with only one DC converter installed, I then knew that the removed DC converter was bad. However, if none of the lighting came on then both the converters were most likely good.

After I applied external power to the aircraft, the latter happened. None of the lighting came on. I had a few other troubleshooting ideas but wanted to recheck some of the previous items inspected by other maintainers. I then found the problem as to why there was a No. 1 DC converter caution light and a problem with the backup hydraulic pump malfunctioning. Three current limiters located in the No. 2 junction box were blown. We quickly replaced the three current limiters and applied power. Everything came on as advertised without the No. 1 DC converter caution light. I applied backup hydraulic power and that worked as well. This was a great sign. We were closer to getting this aircraft on tomorrow’s schedule! I informed maintenance control and started to put the DC converters back in their original spots. Once all that was completed, we headed back to the shop for shift turnover and updated the IPs. As I was writing my IPs, I briefly stated that current limiters needed to be put on order to fix the gripe. However, I never stated that we swapped the converters.

The next day, I found out that aircraft 14 had four or five new downing discrepancies that were found during a turn-around inspection. These gripes were discovered while doing aircraft lighting checks. One of the multifunctional flight displays had smoke coming from it and multiple circuit breakers had popped when external power was applied. At this point, quality assurance launched an investigation to determine the cause of these electrical gripes.

The investigation concluded that the No. 2 DC converter terminal leads were swapped. I was in disbelief and wondered how those wires could have been swapped when I had taken the precautions that I did. As it turns out, during the removal of the No. 2 DC converter, I failed to notice that, unlike the No.1 side, the positive wire ran to the aft terminal and the negative to the forward terminal. When we removed the converter to get to the cover screws we positioned it to look like the No. 1 DC converter side. We placed the forward lead to the forward terminal, the aft lead to the aft terminal. When we placed everything back in its original place, we hooked up both converters to mirror one another. The investigation found that all of the nine damaged electrical components caused by the series of errors totaled $121,499, which the Navy classifies as an aviation Class C mishap.

I didn’t know what to think because I had never done anything like this before. I was always so careful during my troubleshooting to follow the publications and place everything back correctly when I was finished. I could go into a variety of causal factors, but it really only comes down to one thing. Complacency! Yes, several errors were made that night to include lack of procedure compliance, inspecting my own work and proper documentation, all of which were done out of complacency. I thought that I could make it work as a “one-man-show,” but in reality, I was working a bit outside my means. I had multiple requirements throughout the night such as helping out the CDI troubleshooter when he needed it and working on the downing discrepancies, all while running the rest of the work center. It was hard to slow down and give the maintenance task at hand the proper amount troubleshooting time that was required. I want to be the best AE in the command. I want to be the “go-to” expert, and I want to take care of anything thrown my way. Because of that, I felt the need to rush and get everything done during my shift. By cutting corners, I ended up causing a Class C mishap.

Since then, I have slowed down a considerable amount. Amazingly, we still fly aircraft every day and we get the job done together, as a team. I am writing this to those hard chargers out there who think they can get everything accomplished by themselves. It’s not wrong whatsoever to have that kind of motivation. In fact, we always need more of that in this high-tempo aviation community. But in the end, it’s important to remember to be mindful of your limits, don’t be afraid to pump the brakes from time-to-time, think about the consequences of your actions, and remember the importance of fighting complacency because it affects the team as a whole.