The Tool That Went Flying

By AM2 Arnold Vales

Not a single issue of Mech Magazine, it seems, is published without mentioning a tool incident. I’ve read plenty of such articles and thought of how easy it would’ve been for those people to prevent tool incidents by taking a few simple steps of tool control.

Well, now I sit in front of the Aviation Maintenance Officer (AMO) thinking about the sequence of events that got me here. I know it’s the same simple tool-control steps I took for granted that allowed a one-half-inch wrench to go flying inside a CH-46’s forward pylon.

The midnight shift routinely began with more gripes and inspection priorities than we could handle. I usually would start “knocking off” the inspections, but, being shorthanded, I decided to ease the burden and took care of a few “5-minute fixes.” Murphy's Law held true, and my 5 minutes became four hours. Before I knew it, my maintenance chief was yelling at me, demanding to know why the inspections had not been completed.

It was about 0400, and we had early flights in a couple of hours. My chief’s wrath sent everyone scrambling to get three birds ready for flight. I was confident I could get the job done under fire, so I grabbed a tool from the 140-1 box without logging it out. I reasoned that I would return it quickly and save a few minutes to boot. When I got out to the aircraft, my CDI had the 120-1 box ready, so I gathered some tools out of that box and did my inspections.

The first two aircraft went smoothly, but I was having trouble with a crescent wrench on the forward longitudinal bellcrank on the third aircraft. I pulled out the one-half-inch wrench from my foreign object damage (FOD) pouch and made quick work of the troublesome bolt. Glancing at my watch, I realized I had only a few minutes to signoff the paperwork before the crew walked. I quickly gathered all the tools, accounted for the 120-1 box, but completely forgot about the wrench lodged behind the bellcrank bolt. Having an early medical appointment that day, I hurried to sign off my inspections and left.

Aircraft 03 just had launched when my supervisor discovered the 140-1 toolbox had a missing tool. A quick look at the log showed no one had checked out that tool. The supervisor told the maintenance chief about the problem, and they quickly figured out that I was the only person that could’ve used the tool.

The aircraft was recalled, and, sure enough, the wrench was discovered inside the forward pylon. By the time I got back to the shop, everyone was waiting for an explanation on how the wrench ended up in the aircraft.

I consider myself lucky: The aircraft came back safely and nobody got hurt. I could not bear to imagine how things would have turned out had the tool become jammed in the forward flight controls.

The shortcut I took was unforgivable. The tool log exists to provide positive accountability. Had I followed procedures, my supervisor immediately would have been able to pinpoint the problem and would have stopped the aircraft before it launched. Countless aircraft and aircrew have been lost from jammed flight controls or from tools being sucked into engines. I quickly reconsidered the price I’m willing to pay to get the job done fast.

Petty Officer Vales wrote this story while assigned to HC-5. He now is assigned to the USS Boxer (LHD 4).