Friday, October 26, 2007

The Last Screw: A Short Story

The Last Screw: A story from the shop floor.

It was a dark and stormy night in the winter of 1987. Well, that's how all good stories start, right? The night crew at a certain now defunct fixed base operator in Long Beach was doing a ten year tank and plank inspection on a Falcon 20 with the freighter door.

The aircraft was up on a belly support and the wingtips were on jacks. The planks had been removed from the lower side of the wings, and they were stainless (I think) steel screws going into nutplates-about 1200 of them on each side.

After the corrosion treatment and recoating with Buna sealer a/k/a monkey blood and laying out the 12 hour cure PR1422 the planks were offered up and reassembly began.

All went well until about 3/4 way through the right hand side, when one of the screws stripped the nutplate. The assembly work went right around it and finished up, except for that one stripped screw and nutplate. Replacing the nutplate would have meant completely disassembling the job and missing the next day fuel tank leak check and delivery. Running a tap into the nutplate proved futile-there weren't enough threads to attempt lining them up one more time.

The crew chief looked at the inspector, who found something to do in his office that was going to take a while. The crew chief who shall remain nameless (Jose F. your secret is safe with me) muttered imprecations and dark and bloody oaths in Spanish. He was as easy to read as a book. I saw his expression change from despair to anger to inspiration and hope as he said "I got an idea. Don't go anywhere!".

He reached in his pocket and pulled out a rivet gauge, measured up the hole as if he were going to shoot a Huckbolt through metal, went to the stockroom, selected a Huckbolt of the right length and a countersink and reappeared.

Yours truly countersunk the screwhole to get the angle right, dunked the Huckbolt into some PR1422, pushed it into the hole, chucked it up in the rivet puller and........and.........and......pulled the trigger and....and......and........that satisfying KA-BANG! when you know that you've gotten a good solid pull.

The crew chief crossed himself.Visual inspection revealed the stem broken off flush and the ring clinched just right.

A couple of sixpacks of Corona magically appeared and as the eastern horizon started to redden with the approach of Old Sol, all of us knew it was going to be a pretty good day.
Photo credit:, bes' li'l ole free stock photo site around.


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