Careers in aviation mechanics

Aircraft Mechanic Careers

Topics of Study for Aviation Mechanic Careers

What kinds of things must you learn in order to become an FAA licensed aircraft mechanic?

Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) airplane maintenance technicians must possess a broad range of knowledge about aircraft construction materials and techniques, about different powerplants and propulsion system parts, about the various mechanical, electrical, and hydraulic control systems, about de-icing and anti-icing equipment, and about the air pressure sensitive, vacuum powered, or electronic navigation and communication systems.

Know the FAA Rules

In addition to the required knowledge about all those different systems, aircraft mechanics must know the Federal Aviation Regulations that govern how, when, and by whom airplanes can be serviced. All aircraft are subject to regularly scheduled inspections, which must be done and certified by a licensed and qualified mechanic. A&P mechanics must know the inspection intervals and the nature of the inspections to be done at each interval.

These inspections and the required intervals vary according to the type of aircraft how it is being used, from the basic 100 hour and annual inspections performed on flight school airplanes to the sophisticated and expensive "D check" performed on commercial airliners. A "D check" amounts to a major rebuild of the airplane, and is done only after many thousands of flight hours and many flight cycles.

More Than Reciprocating Piston Aircraft Engines

Many people think of aircraft mechanics as people who work on reciprocating piston aircraft engines, or perhaps jet turbine engines, but that is actually only part of the job. A&P mechanics spend a great deal of time repairing, maintaining, and inspecting all of the other parts of the aircraft.

Aircraft mechanics must know about welding and working on the following:

  • Sheet metal structures
  • Bonding and working with composite airframe or control surface structures
  • Aircraft electronic systems and wiring
  • Aircraft fuel systems
  • Pitot and static air pressure flight instruments
  • Vacuum powered gyroscopic flight attitude or direction systems
  • Aircraft hydraulic and pneumatic systems for brakes
  • Controlling propeller pitch
  • Deploying retractable landing gear

In addition to knowing how to work on the various types of systems, it is important that an aircraft mechanic understand the laws of physics underlying the systems so that he can diagnose and fix problems. It is much easier to figure out what is wrong if you know why the parts work the way they do, and can use that knowledge to determine what might be preventing proper operation.

Weather and Climate Matter

It is also important that airplane mechanics understand the harsh conditions under which aircraft are often used and stored. It gets very hot in summer very cold in winter out on the ramp, and planes transition from the cool, dry air up in the atmosphere where they cruise, down to the heat and humidity of airports near sea level. The systems need to withstand the extremes of temperature and the condensation which is caused by these changes in operating environment, and the damage and malfunctions which can result.

The wind is another factor for aviation mechanics. Out on the ramp, wind can cause the control surfaces of an aircraft to beat themselves up if not properly secured, and even properly secured controls can suffer chafing and abrasion from the constant pounding by the wind. In flight, of course, the winds are much stronger and always flow in a predictable way over the surface of the aircraft. Less noticed, but perhaps more important to an aviation mechanic, is the effect the wind and the vibrations on an aircraft can have on wires and small parts, buffeting them relentlessly in flight and causing fatigue and cracks.

Aircraft mechanics need to appreciate the various factors and conditions that contribute to mechanical failures, and the maintenance and inspection procedures that are used to prevent failures. In the sky, a pilot can't just pull over and call a tow truck in case of mechanical failure. Since the consequences can be severe, it is essential that aircraft mechanics know how to properly perform the preventive maintenance and inspections that are required to prevent in-flight failure. The job requires a love of airplanes and a broad base of knowledge about them, along with hands-on experience and the skills and judgment that such experience can yield.

If you are interested in a career as an A&P aircraft mechanic, where do you get all that knowledge and experience in the first place? A&P schools


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