For every aircraft owner, the annual inspection is a big deal. It means downtime, expense, and angst (over what might be discovered and the cost to repair it). A good relationship with a trustworthy, knowledgeable shop is the best way to mitigate the most unpleasant aspects of the annual inspection. Since Warrior 481 adopted me in 2004, I have interacted principally with two shops: Conrad Aero in Three Rivers, MI and Boshart Enterprises in Batavia, NY.
One of the factors in my decision to relocate from the Le Roy Airport (5G0) to the Williamson Sodus Airport (SDC) was the presence of B.A.C. Services on the field there. Owned and operated by "Helicopter" Ray (my daughter's nickname for him, a disambiguation from the other Ray who owns the Le Roy Airport), B.A.C. Services is the go-to shop for the Williamson Flying Club as well as several of my friends from Le Roy including "Airport" Ray himself (when it comes to the Rays, my policy of not using last names on this blog becomes decidedly awkward). Helicopter Ray used to make house calls in Le Roy and tended to the Warrior a few times when a flight to Batavia for maintenance was simply not possible. He is careful, thorough, dedicated, and trustworthy.
For Warrior 481's 2015 annual inspection, I made the switch to B.A.C. This was difficult for me because I have a good relationship with Boshart Enterprises. But for the first time as an aircraft owner, I had access to high quality maintenance right on my home field. After dropping off the airplane this year, there was no need for convoluted logistics to return me from a distant shop to my car (which usually relied heavily on the kindness of my friends). For example, in 2014, Darrell drove me back to Sodus from the shop in Batavia in a rainstorm, then returned home to Le Roy; a round trip that required over two hours for him to complete.
I have worked with enough different mechanics over the years to know that, while everyone strives to cover the critical details, each has his own areas of emphasis. In Three Rivers, John found things overlooked by the pre-buy mechanic I used in Guthrie, OK. Boshart Enterprises found things missed by John. Ray has a reputation for a keen eye and I strongly suspected that he would find issues unnoticed by all of his predecessors...and he did.
I visited the shop mid-inspection to get an update on progress. Ray walked me through the list of discrepancies (all minor), but he saved the best for last.
"Oh, and I found THAT in your left wing," he pointed to a fist-sized block of steel sitting on his workbench.
"Um...that's a bucking bar!" I observed.
"Yup," Ray verified in typically laconic manner.
It was tucked behind a rib in the left wing, sitting loose and undetected by everyone I had hired to inspect the airplane previously.
This, of course, inspired a lot of jokes:
Ray offered that Warrior 481 might fly right wing low now that all that weight was gone from the left wing. He also asked if I ever heard any loud thumps from the left wing in turbulence. Considering this, I am happy that there is no bucking bar shaped dent in the lower wing skin.
Understanding its purpose, Noah inquired, "Was there still a guy holding it?"
"Is bucking the new fracking, like from Battlestar Galactica?" asked non-pilot Kevin.
My favorite comment came from Steve: "And here you thought you just couldn't keep the ball perfectly centered all these years." Nice.
Because it would have been used for riveting wing skins into place, perhaps how the bucking bar came to be there is less of a mystery than when. Left behind by someone lacking Ray's attention to detail, possibly in the previous century, how many years has it ridden along in Warrior 481 as an unannounced (*thump*) hitchhiker?
For me, the moral of the story is that a fresh set of eyes on any airplane is a good thing.