Respecting the aircraft mechanic and shedding the grease monkey image

Aircraft mechanics, generally speaking, are a humble group. When someone discovers we work in aviation usually the first question is “Are you a pilot?”. Generally, our response is “No, I’m just a mechanic”. As if what we do for a living is something to hang our heads in shame about.

Mechanic working at altitude in an aircraft fuel tank.
Photo: Michael Spinks

How many different skill sets must we posses to be proficient in our craft? There’s electrician, plumber, heavy equipment operator, computer expert, interior decorator, painter, seamstress, carpenter, welder, machinist, HVAC, metal sculptor and fabricator, creative writer, legal expert, negotiator, draftsman, radio operator, acrobat and contortionist are some that come quickly to mind.

How many different environments do we have to perform these skills in, all without making a mistake? Rain, ice, snow, heat, cold, darkness, blazing sun, confined spaces, toxic environments and high altitudes are just the “normal” environments we work in.

Now add in all the different positions we must put our bodies in to perform these skills in these environments, sometimes simultaneously juggling several skill sets at once while someone is pressuring us to get the job finished. This is the real world of the aircraft mechanic.

We are called “grease monkey”, which is defined as “a mechanic, especially one who works on aircraft” while a pilot is called “an officer and a gentleman”. Pilots, with all due respect, just fly the airplane. Most of us have done that too. The Wright brothers were the first pilots, but they were mechanics before that!

Today’s modern aircraft are the most technologically advanced machines ever created in the history of humans. Our tools are no longer a hacksaw and a hammer, but a laptop computer and digital diagnostic equipment to interface with the advanced systems that are installed on modern aircraft. Sure, we still use basic tools, but the ways in which we use them have been refined.

The next time someone asks “are you a pilot?”, respond by holding your head high and proudly proclaiming “No, I’m an aircraft mechanic.” Shedding the “grease monkey” image starts with us. Mechanics are educated and highly trained. There is no other profession that requires proficiency in so many different skill sets with the level of awesome responsibility that mechanics have. Let’s not forget the liability and risk we assume as well. We’re not baking cookies, we’re in a high risk venture. It’s time we are respected for that. It starts with self-respect.

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Michael, I can't argue with your message but I disagree with some subject matter. First, the term "grease monkey" does refer to a mechanic but DOES NOT reference 'especially one who works on aircraft.' The term was originally coined during the Industrial Revolution.

In the early phases of the Industrial Revolution, machinery was often large, crude, and dangerous. Child labor was also quite common, and employed at usurious wages to perform difficult and dangerous tasks. One of the tasks bestowed upon these children (predominantly males) was that of climbing along the beams, catwalks, and difficult to reach portions of factory-sized machines. Their purpose was to perform minor repairs and to grease the gears. Their scampering about the machines resembled the behavior of monkeys climbing about. Their primary purpose was to grease the machines; hence, they were commonly called grease monkeys. They were readily identified by the grease streaked and soaked clothing they wore. So when anyone wearing grease streaked and soaked clothing, it was presumed that they worked as a grease monkey. It was a derogatory and denigrating term.

When automobiles made their appearance on the industrial scene, the term was already well entrenched in American society. Those who did the mechanical repairs, greased the autmobiles, and wore the evidence of their labors on their clothing were also called grease monkeys. I'll chalk this up to literary license...

I strongly disagree with the inference that the majority of A&P/IAs have a lack of self-respect. Quite the contrary, I find an overwhelming number of my brothers and sisters to have an appreciation for art, strong emotions, a feel for adventure, unusual ideas, above average curiosity, and variety of experiences. We show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement with planned rather than spontaneous behavior. We show high energy, positive emotions, surgency, and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others. Our mindset is to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others.

These traits are not limited to aircraft technicians but are common to well-educated, highly trained, experienced professionals of which I proudly claim to be a part. I do agree that we're in a high-risk industry and respect does stat within but the majority of respect must be earned! And personally, I think we do a pretty damned good job of that! As the Bard once said, "a rose by any other name..." which translates to what matters is what something is, not what it is called.


Bob Pasch

The original manuel for the Luscombe 8-A series calls for Marfak grease to be used through out the air frame, would you consider Aeroshell #7 a suitable replacement? Thanks for your time.

I think so. Marfak is a fibrous sodium soap grease that's still available from Texaco. The temp ranges are similar but the 7 is synthetic oil based. I'd compare mil spec #s...