The go that went.
However, the last aircraft to recover for the cycle had a wingfold problem when it rolled out of the dearm area. The starboard wing wouldn't fold. I saw this discrepancy when the yellowshirts were spotting in the corral. I rushed over and tried the normal troubleshooting procedure of inserting a Phillips screwdriver in the wingfold safety pin area; this process will cycle the wing-fold inhibit switch if it is sticking. No dice. Another AE was close to me on the deck, so I had him check the wingfold circuit breakers. He found a popped circuit breaker for one phase of the three-phase motor for the right wingfold actuator.
The flight-deck coordinator (FDC)told me I had one hour to give him a definite up or down status on the aircraft. Another AE2 in my shop had come up to help. I knew we were going to have to read wires from the circuit-breaker panel to the wingfold actuator, so I sent the other AE2 to check out the required schematics and get a multimeter. Meanwhile, I removed the access panel to get to the actuator.
By the time my counterpart had come back with the publication, I had already removed the access panel and knew that we were not going to be reading wires after all. As soon as I opened the panel I could smell the residue of an electrical fire. I inspected all of the wire harness in the panel and found no evidence of chafing or arcing. This meant that the electric motor in the actuator had burned up. I let the FDC know that I was going to need a new actuator. We were going to have to cannibalize it feoma hard-down bird in the hangar. The other AE2 who was working with me hurried to the hangar to rob the required part, while I removed the bad part from the "go" aircraft.
I had the other AE2 get a power cord and get the aircraft ready for rigging the wingfold actuator. While he was getting a power cord, I electrically connected the actuator to rig it. He headed up the boarding ladder to the cockpit, and I met him by the cockpit to clarify the procedure (he hadn't done it before).
The procedure entails electrically connecting the actuator and leaving the torque shaft out of it, so it can't drive the wingfold transmission. Folding and spreading the wings several times matches the electric-motor position with the wingfold position.
My "clarification" with the other AE2 went something like this: "When I give you the signal to fold the wings, put the switch in fold. When I give you the signal for spread, put the switch to spread. Got it?"
The AE2 replied, "Got it."
I proceeded to the wing to watch the motor turn and to give him the signals. As soon as we started the procedure, my LPO came up the ladder and motioned me to come over. I dropped what I was doing and went to the left leading edge extension (LEX) to see what he needed.
My LPO came up to tell me to slow down, because maintenance control was not putting this aircraft on the next event. The FDC hadn't got this message and still thought that the aircraft had to be expedited to an up status.
The ordnance team was standing around waiting for me to finish using power, so they could upload ordnance. I left the LEX to go back to the wing and finish the actuator installation. By this time there was an aircraft on cat 1.
A QAR told me to get off the aircraft. I tried to explain that I had a tool pouch and an unsecured panel on the wing that I had to get. I had multiple people telling me to get down. I hunkered down on the port side of the canopy until the aircraft had launched. Before I could go to the wing where I had been working, the same QAR handed me my tool pouch--it had fallen off the aircraft. I checked to make sure all the tools were still in it.
I rushed to the wing were I had been working, and to my dismay the access panel was nowhere to be found. We searched the catwalk and area surrounding the jet. It had gone over the side.
We've read stories about perceived pressure leading to tunnel vision and lapses in judgment. I never for a minute thought I was immune to any of that, but I didn't realize how fast a normal situation could spiral out of control before your eyes.
Lack of communication and inexperienced personnel certainly played a large role, but the largest contributing factor was me. I was too focused on getting the aircraft back in an "up" status to check my surroundings and identify the potential hazards. I violated a strict squadron policy regarding access panels being all the way on or all the way off the aircraft. This oversight led to the loss of a $28,000 panel and tarnished my reputation in the squadron.
Looking back, there are a lot of things I could have done differently. I should have told the FDC that one hour might not be enough time, secured the panel in a nearby squadron workcenter, kept physical control of my tools, and took the time to brief the evolution before starting the job.
In the end, we received a new panel from the supply system and the aircraft was returned to an up status. I am thankful that the panel flew overboard--it could have landed on the deck and hurt a Sailor or Marine.
By AE2(AW) Jeremy Carder
AE2(AW) Carder is with FA-105.