When instruction manuals get it wrong

Many who earn degrees in English go on to work for companies writing instruction manuals or work in other technical writing fields, as many of my classmates went on to do. I was telling my dad about this during one of our visits, and he told me about the time he’d broken something important on an airplane because of a flawed set of instructions in a manual.

Well, it all started when I was stationed at NAS Atlanta. I was with VR-46 squadron at the time. I was told to check the adjustment of the thrust reverser. Armed with a toolbox and the instruction manual, I headed out to the plane. I sat down to read the instructions and when I was finished, I began my task.

VR-46 was originally based out of NAS Jacksonville and had relocated to NAS Atlanta in 1972. I was stationed at NAS Atlanta at the same time that the last piston driven C-118 Liftmaster aircraft in military service was retired by VR-46 as the squadron transitioned to modern DC-9 jet aircraft in 1985.

The instructions said to place the pin in a certain hole, which I did, and then I went up into the cockpit and applied power to the aircraft and dumped the thrust reverser. After I was finished, I left the cockpit and went back down to where I had been working and my stomach flipped and hit the ground. I just stood there looking at this giant mess thinking, Oh no! What am I going to do? I’m dead meat now. The next thing I did was reread the book to make sure I’d gone point by point and after assuring myself that I’d done exactly what the instructions said, I went to Maintenance Control.

“Uh, Chief? We have a problem out at the hangar,” I said. I’m sure he could read on my face that something horrible had happened. I explained the situation and the Maintenance Chief called the Quality Control Chief and he came out and he read the book and agreed that I had done everything by the book so at least I was off the hook. The Quality Assurance Chief suggested I rewrite the thrust reversal pages and submit it, which I did. It was accepted and I was awarded $400 for my efforts. Not only that, but the replacement pages were sent to every other VR squadron as well.

In 2007, a plane was flown from NAS Atlanta to NAS Key West. This flight marked 100,000 mishap-free flights for Squadron VR-46. It takes an entire squadron of maintenance, operations, administrative and safety experts to accomplish a feat of this nature. The Eagles of VR – 46 continue to achieve goals while consistently providing the best possible service to the fleet.

Reach Kathleen Guill at 580-379-0588, ext. 2602.

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