Mickey Mouse can fly planes? Not without the help of this engineer!

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In the early days of aviation, many an aircraft took to the skies held together with a twist of wire. I’d like to tell you a tale, from first-hand experience, of a (relatively) modern turboprop that did the very same thing!

I was an engineer in another life, long, long ago. After fluking my way to a degree, I went on to work in the field for a number of years.

Back in the 1960s, two of us moved from “East of the Rabbit Proof Fence” to take up new positions in Western Australia. On arrival in Perth, we were advised that one would service the north of the state while the other serviced the south. We tossed a coin to decide. Yours Truly ‘won’ the north. At this point I should tell you the dividing line between north and south was the Great Eastern Highway. Those of you from WA will appreciate the joke; those not… I guess you’ll have to check it out on a map!

There are big distances to be covered in a state the size of Western Australia. I used to drive to appointments as far off as Carnarvon and Kalgoorlie. Anything further afield, I flew. Back in those days, the airline servicing the state was MacRobertson Miller Airlines, or MMA. For better or for worse – and I’ll give an illustration shortly – they were universally known as Mickey Mouse Airlines.

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I had flown to Port Hedland on business for a couple of days before hopping on an F-27 Friendship for the return flight to Perth. I looked casually out the window of the aircraft as number 1 engine started and noticed a small inspection cover flapping wildly in the slipstream created by the propeller. A Dzus fastener had broken and fallen out. Beckoning a hostess (OK, OK, that’s what they were called in those days!), I showed her the unfastened panel and she went straight to the flight deck. The young first officer came and took a look, returned to the cockpit and the engines were immediately shut down.

Service personnel came and inspected the panel and its missing fastener. They returned to their workshop but were apparently unable to find a replacement Dzus. What happened next was testament to how efficient were the virtual bush mechanics of MMA. One of them came with a length of welding wire. He pushed it through, curved it around and then wound it firmly in a twist, cutting it off neatly. This done, he repeated the process with another length of wire. Then, satisfied with his work, which was further inspected by the Captain, the engines were started and off we flew, landing safely back in Perth, barely an hour behind schedule.

I know many of you will be sweating over a bit of welding wire holding the little Fokker together but let me tell you, as an engineer, I was entirely happy with what was done… and how…

You see, by using TWO bits of wire, that mechanic had obeyed one of the basic tenets of flying safety: Double redundancy!

Have you ever needed to use your skills to oversee something like John did? When has what you’ve known saved a situation? Share your stories below!