Sunday, May 15, 2011

Vietnam -- No Power Scotty!

Of course Star Trek wasn't quite yet a household name and electrical specialists didn't bone up to the level of Enterprise maintenance. Besides, we were in a combat zone, not on a stage set.

Okay, I'm trying to be nice.

Essentially, our electrical technical specialists weren't the brightest in the world. Surmise: too many times using wet finger in an electrical socket apparently fries crucial intuition circuits.

So, you're probably asking yourself, what was the flight line extra and maintenance data specialist doing working with an electrical specialist on a electrical issue?

Simple, we had to get this helicopter combat ready.  This particular Cobra just wouldn't start.

Yes, the battery worked.  Yes, the power came on inside the cockpit.  No, the engine wouldn't fire up.

So, all we wanted to know was what part was failing so I could run down to A Company, 5th Transportation Battalion and get the replacement part.

Did I actually need the electrician to tell me what part needed to be replaced.  Unofficially, no.  Officially, yes.

So, out comes this electrical specialist with his electrical manual and his voltage meter. He looks over the schematic and starts probing around.

He does this for three hours. And I'm getting bored and pissed.

"Do you mind if I look at the schematic?" I ask flavoring my words so it doesn't sound like I think he's an idiot.

"Sure, go right ahead,"  he retorts with that tone that says you don't know what your looking at anyway.

What this kid didn't know was I took five years worth of mechanical drawing and shop in high school, went to 12 weeks of a basic electronics course after high school and had just rebuild an entire Cobra at A Company, 5th Transportation Battalion before coming over to B Battery.

It didn't take me long to find the problem. There was a two switch relay trip enclosed in clear plastic known as the K-12 relay.

When the power gets turned on it causes a relay to close. When that relay closes it produces heat and creates a gas. When the more powerful second relay trips to start the engine, the gas blues the contacts and it eventually won't be conductive anymore.

"I think I know what the problem is," I said in a way that wouldn't make him feel like I knew more about this than he.

"Oh, really, what is it?"

"The K-12 relay."

"Nope, I already checked it, its closing on both sides."

I just smiled. and let him continue to sleuth about the electrical system.

Well, day turned into night. And by 10 pm with the temp generator driving me nuts with its steady hum, I finally had enough.

"Would you do yourself and me a favor and pull that K-12 relay out," I said in a way that told the specialist that I was not only tired of him fooling around, but I knew something about electrical parts.

So he did. And in the bright light of the temp generator I showed him.

"Okay, see the clear plastic enclosure and how around the heat from the larger relay has discolored it?"


"Well, if you could crack open the cover, you would see the contacts are coated with a blueish film. Meaning that while you're correct about it closing, it didn't mean electricity was flowing.

"Now I don't care what you think of me or what rumors that are floating out there about who I am.  But I'm telling you this is the problem.  And I'm going down to A Company, 5th Transportation Battalion to get you another one. And you're going to get the credit for finding and fixing the problem.

"As far as I'm concerned, we never had this conversation and can go back to your pot head friends of yours and tell them that no NARC would have learned this much about Cobras just to bust your asses.
Just because I don't drink and I don't smoke dope doesn't mean, in your words 'I'm a NARC'.

"Do I make myself clear, Sergeant?"

"Then what are you?"

"I'm an idiot who signed up for 3 years and thought he was going to work on fixed wing. Someone who hates saluting John Wayne officers and listening to alcoholic NCOs who have pissed off their lives to play power trips.

"All I want to do is go home with a clean record and in one piece. Think I can do that?"

He shook his head in agreement.

"Good, then lets fix this gawd damn chopper and call it a day."

So, I went over to A Company, 5th Transportation Battalion, got the part and the Cobra was fixed.

From that point on, I had no problems with the boys from refer ally.

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