FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 25, 2019) - Day-to-day operational activities seem to always provide opportunities for flight crews to grow complacent. Although there is no intent to arbitrarily shortcut proper maintenance procedures, isolated incidents or aircraft discrepancies that are relatively simple to rectify often get corrected using improper tooling, maintenance practices, personnel and documentation. I've personally seen this occur numerous times, luckily without incident or injury. Regardless, it's not correct. Such an occurrence happened just a short time ago while an aircrew participated in a daytime training flight.
The crew took off about 1000 hours and flew approximately 1.5 flight hours before stopping at a fixed base operator for fuel and lunch. There were two pilots, a crew chief and one passenger on board. Upon returning from lunch, the aircrew performed a thru-flight inspection without any findings.
The passenger waited until the aircraft engines were cranked before boarding. While approaching the aircraft, he noticed liquid draining from the No. 1 engine and alerted the crew chief, who diagnosed (smelled) the fuel and advised the pilots to shut down the aircraft.
Once the aircraft was shut down and the rotors stopped turning, the flight crew opened the engine cowling to discover a loose fuel line union at the drain valve. However, the crew chief did not have a toolbox on board, nor did he possess the appropriate credentials to sign off on any work performed on the aircraft. The pilot in command asked if anyone had a multi-plier tool, and the crew chief provided one.
Despite knowing the toolbox and credential situation, the PC used the tool to tighten (snug) the union. There was a discussion between all crewmembers about the finding and the corrective action taken, but nobody spoke up about the incorrect process. The crew discussed a follow-on ground operational check to verify there was no further leakage and all agreed. The PC performed engine "venting" to avoid a hot start and safely performed an engine start. The crew chief visually inspected the suspect area and line and reported to the PC there was no further leakage.
The PC shut down the affected engine and the crew performed another thru-flight inspection to ensure aircraft preparedness for the flight home. Neither the flight crew personnel nor the passenger cited issue with how the situation was handled with regard to tooling, procedure or lack of documentation. The flight crew reboarded the aircraft and returned to home base without further incident.
Once the aircraft was on the ground, the maintenance noncommissioned officer in charge was notified of the occurrence. He sent a Soldier to inspect and properly torque the suspect line. (Keep in mind the line was not leaking nor was a discrepancy ever written up by the flight crew.) After properly torqueing the line, the maintenance personnel informed the NCOIC that the aircraft was good to go.
Several days later during a casual conversation with standardization personnel, the co-pilot of the affected aircraft mentioned the occurrence and described the actions taken to correct the situation. Naturally, the process followed by the aircrew was incorrect for numerous reasons, and the incident prompted further investigation. The situation was addressed with everyone involved or aware of the occurrence to ensure due diligence and proper procedures are exercised during any future flight operation discrepancies.
Needless to say, these types of occurrences happen more than you can imagine. Flight crews individually assess the criticality of operational discrepancies under their own cognizance for a multitude of reasons: simplicity, unnecessary haste, experience, etc. It's paramount, as aviation personnel, that we follow protocol no matter how small or seemingly insignificant the issue.
Aviation procedures in totality (i.e., documentation, training, personnel, occupational specialties and tooling) are tried-and-true risk practices developed and honed over years of lessons learned within the community to mitigate inherent risks. Regardless of reasoning, application of improper procedures is a "quality escape" and dangerous to personnel and equipment. There's no need for haste. Take the time and be safe!
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