Francis Meyrick

A Blip on the Radar (Part 30) The Grease Monkey

Posted on July 27, 2012

A Blip on the Radar

Part 30: The Grease Monkey

A tale of a Grease Monkey, a drive shaft, and a gibbering idiot

For most of my aviation career, I have been a dual rated fixed wing and helicopter commercial pilot. But I do hold an A+P license, obtained via a tortuous thirteen month full time course at the (now defunct) Cheyenne AeroTech, previously of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Most people would say an A+P is an “aircraft mechanic”. Officially, these days, we are actually “aircraft maintenance technicians”. Of course, some pilots look down on mere mechanics. In that case, the proper description is probably “Grease Monkey”. Well, whatever, I was (is) one.

Thus it came to pass, that my long suffering former boss was trying hard to turn me into a USEFUL grease monkey. For sure, I had my freshly printed A+P license, and proud of it I was, but I really didn’t know much. If somebody had yelled:
“Moggy, quick! Bring me a five-eights square hole drill!”
“Moggy! Quick! Bring me a left hand screw driver!”

…the chances are I would have panicked, run around in tight circles, and gone looking for one. Heck, I meant well, but I was undoubtedly not the world’s most knowledgeable Grease Monkey. I was eventually to learn to successfully change out all sorts of major helicopter components, but it was a long road getting there. I think it made me a better pilot, much more gentle on the controls, and more deeply appreciative of the finely constructed components I was torturing during normal (and sometimes highly abnormal) flight operations.
So there I was, in the old, original Big Eye Helicopters hangar in Tumon, on the island of Guam. Which is a pretty hot, humid, strange place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Lots of earthquakes, brown tree snakes, and goofy politicians. It is actually a historic building, when you consider how many years that was THE helicopter company for tuna boats. Many hundreds of pilots and mechanics spent formative time there, and many a helicopter took off or landed on the small grass area outside. A couple crashed there, as well. The building is sadly gone these days. It was eventually sold, and a few months later, a hurricane came through and totally destroyed it.
It was there, on what was to become hallowed ground in the nostalgic memory banks of us half crazed old Tuna Critters, that I too served my apprenticeship on a Hughes 500. MY soon-to-be Hughes 500. With which I was due to depart, playing the dual role of pilot-mechanic. My boss, to be sure, had some reservations. Not about my flying skills, so he said, but about my (gut) wrenching competence. His gut. He was quite right of course, but I was determined to prove him wrong. I was determined to quickly learn the trade, and establish myself as a good old wrench. It couldn’t be that hard, I figured. There were manuals and stuff, and there was always somebody around you could ask. It was in this manner, I cheerfully, meaning well, set about to convince my patient boss that I was not really a complete gibbering idiot.


One day, we had taken a brand spanking new $25,000 Hughes 500 tail rotor drive shaft out of the brand new, factory fresh box. Then we had discovered we weren’t ready for it yet. So my boss told me to get somebody to help me and carefully carry it upstairs to the storage area. The area indicated was up a flight of twenty five steps or so, and it was like a large wooden open balcony at the back of the hangar. We stored all kinds of stuff up there. It was a logical place.
The only problem was that nobody was free that second to help me. They were all busy. Now you have to imagine this very expensive, fifteen foot long tube, worth a bazillion dollars. It makes perfect sense to have two people carry and maneuver it. Especially up a flight of twenty five wooden steps. Only a fool would try that on his own, right? A fool, or a gibbering idiot.
The minutes clicked by. I alone was unemployed, standing forlorn beside my appointed mission. I mean, everybody was wrenching at helicopters, exhibiting their A+P skills. Only one junior mechanic, a probationary grease monkey, was standing idle. And getting frustrated. Maybe feeling guilty. Hell, I don’t know. I wanted so much to be part of the gang. You know, kind of “useful”.

I’m told nobody saw me until I was three quarters of the way up the stairs. On my own, with the fifteen foot long, very expensive, brand new tail rotor drive shaft tottering precariously over my right shoulder. Then, unbeknown to me, a ripple of horror had gone around the hangar. Somebody had pointed, somebody else had pointed, and next thing twenty pairs of eyes had been following my progress very carefully. The stairs were steeper than I had realized, rather uneven, and the old banisters were rickety and wobbly. All this combined to make my progress a little more difficult than I had imagined. I’ll admit: I was maybe swaying a little. From side to side. But I HAD things all under control. I was nearly there, on maybe the second to last step from the top, when I heard my boss.

“Moggy! For flip’s sake! Be CAREFUL!”

Now I was almost offended. In answer, I slowly turned around, the fifteen foot long drive shaft pirouetting neatly around. Cool, kind of. Perfectly under control. You SEE? I stared down at the sea of upturned faces. Ha! Oh, ye of little faith! There was scorn in my voice, as I loudly remarked:


Ha! (That fixed ’em). The captive audience said nothing, but their eyes were glued on me. With a show of nonchalance, I swung around once more, demonstrating my superior skill by twirling the (very expensive) tail rotor drive shaft effortlessly back around. I think I had two more steps to go. I managed the second-to-last one no problem. What happened then, is a total mystery to me to this day…
For some bizarre reason, I tripped solidly over the last step. I kind of half recovered my balance (with a thundering wooden crash), and now at least I WAS up on the balcony section, but now I over balanced to the right. Desperate to save my expensive carrying item, I floundered madly, first one way, and then the other.
I bounced painfully off a drum, sent a shelf with stuff flying, knocked over a plastic box containing nuts, bolts and washers, all the while noisily weaving, bobbing, panicking and swaying.
the sound of my feet drubbing frantically on the wooden floor boards died away, and silence returned. I composed myself. All was …well. Sort of. I had knocked a few things over, but the drive shaft was…undamaged. Now came the hard part. I needed to look back down at the upturned sea of faces. I WAS aware that the hangar had gone…ominously…silent. I debated trying to pass it off as if nothing had happened. Ho-hum, sort of thing. Problem? What problem? NO problem!
I knew it was no use. Sheepishly, I looked down…

Which is why, if you ever meet my old boss, Roger, and you mention my name, I think he will probably start shaking. He may even cover his face. I know he did on that day…
Along with the horror filled faces of the other mechanics, the open mouths, the hands clasping heads, walls, each other, rosaries and prayer sticks… heck, it was a mess. I couldn’t possibly carry it off as if nothing had happened. Just my vocal accompaniment alone, during my Waltzing Mathilda solo ballet performance, had completely given me away.

The sound effects, basically. The frenzied, hysterical, panic filled, saliva drooling…


Francis Meyrick

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on July 27, 2012, 7:14 pm

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