12 Days of an A&P Mechanic’s Christmas

Let’s wrap up 2023 with a new take on an old classic.

For many in aviation, Christmas is just another work day. [Shutterstock]

Some have called it the most wonderful time of the year. It is a time to gather with friends and family to celebrate another year and spend a day of leisure with those closest to us. For others, Christmas Day is just another work day.

I worked on Christmas Day during my stint handling line maintenance for the airlines in the early 1990s. Because I worked the second shift, I did get some time with the family in the morning before heading to the airport.

These days, I make my living with the laptop and not a wrench, which means I am not walking the line or stuck at the hangar swinging gear on holidays. There are plenty of my fellow brothers and sisters who are, however, and hopefully this little ditty will bring a smile to their faces.

By now, you have most likely heard about a dozen or more renditions of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song. What you may not have known is that the origin of the song refers to a series of religious feast days celebrated as part of the Roman Catholic religion in medieval and Tudor England. This is news to me! As luck would have it, we should be feasting as opposed to singing. Bravo.

At any rate, you wanted a song, and a song ye shall have. I give to you on this day the 12 Days of an Aircraft Mechanics’ Christmas. Sing along with me.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a high-wing with tailwheel steering.

Are you team tricycle gear or taildragger? I prefer tailwheels, and I suppose that makes me a bit nostalgic. So be it. There is nothing quite like seeing a taildragger taxi out.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two Mechanix gloves.

Have you ever busted a knuckle trying to break free an internal cylinder hold-down nut? Trust me, it is not a pretty sight. I am also not to be held liable for language uttered when my hand is throbbing. A true love would get you the gloves.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me three Space Pens.

Everyone knows aircraft mechanics have to do a mountain of paperwork. Why not accomplish this task with a pen that is out of this world? Matte black will not stain after oil changes.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four Thunderbirds.

Do I need to explain? As a Navy veteran, I am partial to the Blue Angels, but that does not rhyme with four calling birds. My hope is that kids will see these aerobatic demonstrations and become inspired to join the aviation ranks.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five piston rings.

Setting an aircraft cylinder ring gap can be tricky. Often, owners would order new cylinders from a discount online warehouse but would have them shipped to our shop so we could set the ring gap and install it correctly for a nominal fee.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me six nozzles spraying.

Fuel nozzle health is not something we have touched on yet in Maintaining Your Airplane. The link is a sneak peek.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven rudders trimming.

Trimming flight controls can range from simple, fixed tabs like the above link all the way up to larger, complex systems deploying rudder trim actuators and all points in between.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eight gyros tilting.

I am not a gyro expert; that would be my brother, David. But as any good A&P knows, it is less what you know and more where you go. I always refer to technical data, especially if I am not strong in that field. Check out page 18 of the linked PDF to learn all about the tilt.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me nine throttles advancing.

Did you know that advancing the throttle rapidly might cause an engine to falter? Now you do.

On the 10th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 10 oil pans weeping.

Is there anything worse than oil spots on your pristine hangar floor? OK, maybe there is, but they are ugly nonetheless. Drop the oil pan, clean it thoroughly, grab a new gasket, and slather on Permatex. Problem solved.

On the 11th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 11 wipers wiping.

Cars are easy. If you need a new windshield wiper blade, head down to NAPA and pick one out from the rows of options. Aircraft are a little different. You can go OEM or PMA. Yes, even windshield wiper blades have to be FAA approved.

On the 12 day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 12 engines humming.

All right, you have waited out those long months grounded while the shop overhauled your engine. Now, it’s time to hang it and get back in the air. What do you need to break in the engine and get it humming again? We will cover this in detail in 2024, but the link provides a little ground school to get you in the know.

There you have it, folks. Thanks for following my column and all the shows of support you’ve given me in 2023. I truly hope you find time to relax and celebrate your holidays in style. As always, you can drop me a note to offer a suggestion, tell me I missed the mark, or just say hello. I appreciate it. Cheers.

Richard is a US Navy Veteran, A&P Mechanic, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University alumni. His experience ranges from general and corporate aviation to helicopters, business jets, and commercial airliners. Former owner of a 145 repair station, he currently has an aerospace product management role and is a member of the T-C-Alliance. Follow him on X (Twitter) at @RScarCo.

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