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A&P mechanics keep RMC aircraft to College safety standards

BILLINGS, August 28, 2014 – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certifies aircraft mechanics in airframe and in powerplant (A&P) repair. To keep RMC aircraft running smoothly, Rocky Mountain College aviation mechanics carry certifications beyond these basic ratings.

Newly appointed Director of Aviation Safety Matt Prinkki (’01), a former Skywest captain, coordinates active safety in continuous practice by students and staff. “Impeccable maintenance is the foundation for safety at RMC aviation,” said Prinkki.

Director of Maintenance James Robbins and A&P Mechanic Trevor Smith maintain five Archers, a twin-engine Beechcraft Baron, a Beechcraft Bonanza, and a Cessna aircraft for the RMC aviation program. Beginning students fly the five Archers while instructors use the more instrumented Bonanza and Cessna for commercial pilot rating preparation and give multi-engine instruction in the powerful Baron. 

Aircraft maintenance is preventative. In other words, mechanics inspect and replace parts and systems before they might break. Replacement of every component from magnetos to light bulbs is scheduled and tracked by serial number in software called RMS, a resource management system, which also monitors aircraft flight hours. 

Aircraft receive minor inspection such as tire and fluids checks every 50 flight hours. “Every hundred hours, we inspect beneath engine cowlings and panels on wings,” said Smith.

In September, the twin-engine Baron will receive two new propellers and an overhaul of both engines from Smith and Robbins.

Robbins has more than 35 years in military and commercial aviation, working on “everything from helicopters to advanced fighter jets.”

Smith started in 1996 working on military helicopters. He worked for regional airlines before coming to RMC. He holds the inspection authorization certificate – the highest licensure for mechanics – that lets him sign off on major aircraft repairs and alterations and annual inspections. 

Students are welcomed to the hangar whenever they have questions or concerns. Smith said: “They ask us questions on control and electrical systems, how one electrical issue can affect another.” Professors also bring classes to “point to components and systems” when the mechanics are inspecting an aircraft. 

“Pilots must work closely and communicate effectively with maintenance to ensure a safe and reliable operation,” Prinkki said. The safety record at RMC is strong – the number of incidents per number of hours and students is low. Proactive safety practices infuse every portion of the aeronautical science curriculum. Even as they begin to fly, students help to choose semester-long focuses for safety and benefit from an RMC safety scholarship.