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2022-07 #6 Night Court

Updated: Jul 20, 2022

I have always been a bit lucky, I guess, but I also know that hard work increases the luck. When I returned to GE I expected to start at the bottom again but in the feast or famine world of aviation there are always twists. Airlines tend to pull in their horns during economic downturns and delay maintenance and delay buying new airplanes. However, when things get going again they almost always need a lot of work done in a short period of time.

The "long pole" in jet engine overhaul is the repair of used parts and the acquisition of new parts. Taking the engine apart and putting it back together is quick and easy if you have the parts. So in this upturn GE decided that component repair needed a third shift. Foreman Frank, the dayshift guy had a lot of power and influence so he pretty much was lord of component repair. Second shift was a smaller shift and so the Machine Shop foreman in hangar 3 covered the component repair guys. I forget who was foreman on third shift but likely it was someone in engine assembly. Engine assembly and test was also a 3-shift operation.

I was offered to be the third shift leadman for component repair which I took, primarily for the extra money of being a leadman but also because of the work hours. Day shift worked 7:30am until 4:00pm which included a half hour lunch. Second shift worked from 4pm until 12:30am including a half hour lunch. Third shift worked from 12:30 am until 7:30am. You worked for 6 hours and had a half hour lunch but were paid for 8 hours work. It was also a very autonomous shift and as the leadman I had pretty much run of the place.

Day shift had a lot of folks confusing things. Planners, materials people, leaders of various competencies, different alliances for power, a huge influence of the union leadership and so on. Priorities seemed to change by the hour on day shift. Second shift had a lot less of that and it was pretty common knowledge that more got done on second shift than first shift.

Third shift could have been a very lazy shift. No one was watching and a lot could be blamed on the other shifts and often was. "Oh, second shift didn't get anything done so we started in a hole that's why these parts aren't complete." It's the equivalent of sleeping in the Douglas fuel tanks.

Turn over was the inter-shift period when the work list was discussed and priorities handed over. Some stuff was absolutely important and causing an engine assembly delay, other things were causing sub-assembly delays and other things were normal pipeline. I made sure that I spent time with Frank in the morning to get the "big picture" - Planners and expeditors were production people assigned various parts classes to shepherd through the shop and insure timeliness. So, of course, everything for an individual planner was "top priority." Frank had the experience to sort the wheat from the chaff and explain to me the bigger picture.

There were a couple of planners on second shift but they were focused on the rotor shop and the final assembly shop - that's where we get paid. I would get a turnover from the second shift which had a lot of carry over from the original list at 4pm. I only had like a 12 person crew but we worked our tails off to always be ahead. I often decided what needed to be done for real but it wasn't enough to just get that done. Based on the big picture from Frank I always wanted to get a little ahead. I was getting a reputation as a go to sort of person.

Graveyard shift allowed me to learn the big picture in isolation from all the noise of dayshift and learn my craft. It also allowed me to learn a lot about motivating people and leading from the front. The union didn't love me but management did. My people were somewhat isolated from the union, although every shift in every shop had a union rep, I got along well with my third shift rep. I was learning that well entrenched union leadership with lot of seniority was always looking for leverage against the company. They would do work slowdowns to blackmail the company.

Unions serve a purpose, don't get me wrong. But the average worker really wants to work at a job that has value and feeds their family and has a lot of stability. The best way to achieve that is to produce quality work, on time, at a decent cost. You don't have to be the cheapest, but if you aren't the cheapest you better be the best and most efficient. Over the years I would witness hundreds and hundreds of high paying jobs disappear caused by the inability of unions and leadership to see a bigger picture and work together.

Years later I had Thai International as a customer. They were about to take delivery of their first GE powered modern jets. They had been to Boeing and were now in Cincinnati. Our Customer Support Manager, basically the Thai business contract fulfillment owner, had set up a demonstration of an actual Thai engine in the new engine test cell in Cincinnati. When we got to the test cell, before the customer showed up, there was an oil puddle on the ground from a last minute component change. A janitor was called for and after a short time an old black dude shows up in coveralls with a mop on his shoulder. We show him the spill and he declares, "Aww, hell no! I'm the dry moppa! You need to call a wet moppa!"

The vagaries of job classification made lots of things like this happen. With time running short I grabbed some shop towels and me and another guy cleaned up the spill. Of course we did this in front of all the test cell guys who later filed a grievance for "management" doing hourly work. I knew it would happen as I had crossed the union several times by this point.

But in 1981 that was all in the future. I worked night shift for about a year and then GE shuffled the deck again.

Typical assembly shop - This is a frames shop. The foreground guy is working on a CFM56 turbine rear frame for the engine that powers the Boeing 737. The big lugs you see are the rear engine mount locations. This case will also house the rear bearing and rear bearing oil system. The guys in the background are putting together the combustion case. The ring of yellow plugs is where the fuel nozzles are installed. The high pressure turbine would sit between the large end of the combustion case and the forward end of the rear case.

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This stuff is great - I think you had more responsibility at 20 or so then I did at 50 !

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