MY LEATHERMAN MADE ME AN AIRPLANE MECHANIC
I flew in my 1954 Aeronca "Champ" to an airplane building workshop. It was a "club" plane, meaning it was owned by a bunch of folks who flew it irregularly each, but the plane had its hours of flying on it. I mean this was over 50 years old at the time, but had been "re-done" and "maintained" over its last years, so it wasn't in bad shape, but it had its own share of little things that could go wrong. When I landed at Palm Beach International at my little low and slow airplane's speed, I knew I had problems.
You see, when they designed this, engineering was not, how shall I say, "Top priority" to the designers. More like sketchbook artists instead of engineers. This thing had a drum brake system which was activated by a cable attached to a pedal in the cockpit. Yes. A wire cable steered and braked this plane. It's a good idea in principal: simple design, less of a possibility of functional failure. Except of course when the "simple design" fails. Which, upon my touchdown at the international airport, I discovered I could not brake on the right side to turn the plane in that direction. Small matter. All of us pilots can handle emergencies. I did, too.
I just went to the next turn off where I had slowed down enough to turn with the tail wheel on the plane. However, negotiating the bloody taxiway to the hanger where I was to have my seminar was so complicated. Suffice to say it involved a number of three-sixty turns with the normalcy and sensibility of a whooping crane's mating dance. When I arrived, exhausted after the flight and emergency, I just got out and dragged the damn thing to a spot and left it there.
After a few hours in the seminar, I noticed the next door hanger had an airplane restoration shop. The gentleman there was queried and kindly agreed to make me up the cable for the repair to my brake if I could get the old one out. No, I was not going to borrow his tools. You just don't even ask that of an airplane mechanic. He would have said "no" and I would not have blamed him.
So . . . you have no idea how handy a Leatherman multi-tool is until you pull it out of your flight bag and start looking for possible tools which will disassemble the brake on a 50 year old plane. They were all there. I had to get creative, but the Squirt and the Wave did the trick. I got the old cable all the way out and gave it to the airplane mechanic/restorer who made me TWO (one and a spare).
As you know, taking something apart is a lot easier than putting it back together correctly. However, I was able to rig my Leatherman to act as a vice grip for as long as I needed it to put the tension on the brake cable so the brake could be properly adjusted. When I was done, I was pretty proud of my good fortune, my persistence and damn sure going to keep my Leatherman tools with me at all times. I now have them on my BMW motorcycle, in my wife's BWM motorcycle, my flight bag, and both of our cars. I have given one to my college age daughter and when my nine year old gets bigger, he's getting one too. If there's one thing in my possession of which I cannot do without, it is my Leatherman tools. They go on all my adventures and always will.
J. Steele O.
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