Monday, June 20, 2016

The Tank Rat

I was having a discussion the other day with a young fellow and the subject turned to working in the aircraft industry. I think he would make a pretty good sparky because of his knowledge of things like synthesizers in the music trade. I told him a little bit about the ins and outs of it as I experienced it, the frequent relocations and overall lack of job security, but in the main it was all good.

Except for being a tank rat.

I can almost hear you saying "B-b-but Dougloid.....w-w-what's a tank rat?"

Draw near, and you shall learn what happens to bad people.

There was a fellow once, name of Dante Aligheri, and he wrote about the various levels of hell that a poor benighted person who had really done wrong in this life and really fucked things up was consigned to. The only reason there was not a special circle of hell for tank rats was because they hadn't been invented yet.

Old Satan was no slouch in the punishment department but he couldn't hold a candle to aircraft design engineers when trying to resolve the knotty question of "Where do we put all this jet fuel anyway?"

Thus was born the rubber bladder, and if that wasn't enough punishment, the wet wing was created.

Here's how it works. You seal up the inside of the wing with special glop, a/k/a 1422 sealer, to which you, Satan, have artfully added the smell of manure and cabbage farts. Oh, as an instrument of punishment it is choice.

Well. You do need sealer because wet wings always leak, and you need access doors because there's always a reason for looking around in there, such as the kinds of errors that aircraft design engineers are known to make, and you of course need victims to go inside those wet wings to fix stuff and correct all the design mistakes that have been made by people who will forever remain unassailable.

If you have an access door it is bad enough but there are some airplanes that you can only insert an arm, a flashlight and a mirror to do things like reseal the inside of the tank after repairs. Or corrosion treatment. Or anything, really.

But if you've really got bad karma you actually have to physically get your entire body inside the tank. If it has had fuel in it, you'll wear a respirator and a couple weeks later your skin will peel wherever it has come into contact with jet fuel.

So....there I was, looking at a Canadair CL600 Challenger owned by Marie Callender, the food people. It was one of a cohort of Challengers that, unless perfectly level, would puke fuel out the tank vents when being fueled. A service bulletin was developed which consisted of replacing a whole bunch of internal plumbing and mounting a valve of some sort by drilling a rib and securing the valve with Huckbolts.

Except you were lying on your back in a puddle of fuel in the dark and reaching over your head and behind you to drill the holes. That was the first and last time I had a real full on panic attack, and when I found out that there were seventeen or more CL600s on the west coast and as the junior facility we'd have to be doing all of them, I knew my time at Atlantic Aviation was up.

I handed in my notice that week.

That incident made me change my ways and enlist over at McDonnell Douglas, where I rarely had to enter a fuel tank and if I did it was dry. 

The End of an Occupational Specialty.

I've been considering the various sorts of occupational categories that have been made obsolete by the relentless march of technology, and it occurs to me that in some cases this might be justifiable, even praiseworthy.

I'm talking, of course, about token sucking.

Let me explain. From the beginning of recorded time, using the subway in New York consisted of buying a token at a kiosk in the station. These kiosks were inhabited by a peculiar form of basilisk found nowhere else.

So you'd take your token, walk over to the turnstile, deposit it in the slot, push the turnstile and attempt to admit yourself to the inner platform and board your train. What you did not see was a person who'd jammed the token slot with a chunk of a matchbook cover, and when you walked away in anger because you couldn't go through the turnstile the token sucker would run over, put a liplock on the slot and with a powerful inhale, retrieve your $1.50 token.

It was the most revolting crime ever devised, and some artful token suckers might garner forty or fifty bucks a day plying their trade.

Well. In 2003 that all changed with the introduction of electronic methods that did not rely on the token, and the token suckers have moved on to other income streams.

All of this points to the resilience and deviousness of the human mind when the reward is money or dope. Pavlov coulda parked the dogs and learned all he needed about human nature and conditioning by spending a few days on the subway.