The devil never takes a break: part 1.
My squadron had just transitioned from the FA-18C to the FA-18E and was ramping up for a Conventional Weapons Technical Proficiency Inspection (CWTPI). I was the first collateral duty inspector (CDI) qualified in the command and had received praises from my gunner, division officer and quality assurance supervisor (QAS). Things were going great.
Maintenance Control tasked us to reinstall a centerline pylon and a bomb rack that had been removed from aircraft 300 to facilitate follow-on maintenance. I did my normal routine: check out the tool box, maintenance instruction manual, and necessary support equipment. My team of four workers and I installed a pylon and bomb rack on station six. Once the maintenance was completed, the Interactive Electronic
Technical Manual (IETM) instructs you to apply ground power and run-up the newly installed gear to ensure proper operation.
This is where I made my first mistake. I didn't apply ground power and run-up the equipment to ensure that it operated. I decided not to do this step because another task requiring release checks was scheduled to be performed later in the day. I expected this step to be done later.
A few days later, power plants installed an external fuel tank and tried to do a transfer check during a low power turn. With both engines online, they tried to transfer fuel into the tank but couldn't get it to transfer. The centerline station displayed "unlocked" on the stores page. The turn operator shut down the port engine and signaled the crew to verify that the bomb rack was locked. They verified that it was. They then opened the access panel where the pylon mates to the aircraft and found that the pylon was not electrically connected to the aircraft. Not only was it not connected, it still had electrostatic-discharge (ESD) tape over the cannon plugs.
What would have happened if power plants had failed to do their checks and this discrepancy had slipped through the cracks? What if the turn operator didn't notice the discrepancy on the aircraft stores page? What if the maintenance control chief released the aircraft safe-for-flight? I cannot begin to imagine what would have happened. I have been a collateral duty inspector for eight years and never once have I missed a step or neglected to follow a procedure.
Every step is in place for a reason, regardless of whether or not it seems redundant. Did I think it was redundant to apply ground power and check for operation even though integrated weapons team (IWT) was going to come out and check it? Yes I did. This is where I made my biggest mistake. Had I followed the maintenance procedure and run-up the equipment to verify proper operation, I would have learned that I missed the step of electrically connecting the pylon to the aircraft. It just so happened that the IWT missed that station during their release-and-control check as well.
No matter how good you may think you are or the number of times you have installed that same piece of gear, you are never too experienced to follow your maintenance instructions step by step.
A01 (AW) Brown is with VFA-151