In the past few years, the Citizen of the World has been honored by having many skilled and experienced mechanics work on her. She visited many shops and repair facilities across the United States and received over 50 upgrades and modifications. I like to believe that each mechanic made her a little bit better. These aviation maintenance technicians helped the best version of the Citizen come to life and shine on a global scale. For the Citizen of the World, that “shine” included inspiring many, setting world records and carrying experiments for NASA, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and one supporting biofuel use globally. And now her mission is one of promoting STEM education.
If I was to pick the best of the best of all those mechanics, it would be Rob Louviaux of Commander Maintenance Consulting (CMC). Without him, the Polar Circumnavigation would have never happened. As I reflect back, I have come to realize how much he did for me, the Citizen, and the Pole-to-Pole Flight. It is remarkable how selflessly he gave of his time and expertise. He was our lead mechanic and honestly the most knowledgeable person I know in the industry when it comes to the Twin Jetprop Commander 900.
Why should this matter to you? Because Rob from CMC set the gold standard that I think all mechanics should strive for. In an age when mechanics are taught to replace components until they get it right, this guy knows his stuff cold and saved our project many thousands of dollars. Finding a guy like this as a private pilot will make your flying so much safer and enjoyable. Here are seven qualities you should look for in a master mechanic:
While Rob pulled off some amazing stuff in the two years we spent prepping the Citizen of the World the thing I appreciated most was that he was consistent from start to finish. was always fully in and engaged, whether I was standing directly in front of him, right after a major aircraft failure, or calling him from the other side of the planet. He was solid and I never doubted his level of commitment. He loves aviation, the Commander community, and being a part of something bigger than all of us. Rob always made me feel like l was a priority.
With you when the times get tough
One of the things I most respect about Rob was his willingness to test fly the plane with me when it had completed major work. Most mechanics won’t. He put his life at risk, as I did. The first time this happened was after the overhauled engines were installed. Rob was sitting next to me at altitude when we performed NTS shutdowns on each of the engines — one at a time — and attempted to restart them. The copilot side engine started perfectly but the pilot side engine would not unfeather. Rob went to work doing everything a master mechanic could inflight. When it was clear a component had failed, I saw him close his eyes for a brief moment, take a deep breath and then go to a place of peace as I landed the Citizen on one engine. I think we were both afraid as our legs were shaking when we got out of the airplane.
The second incident happened at altitude when both power levers froze up at 34,500 feet and the cabin simultaneously lost pressurization. As I was starting the emergency decent and declaring an inflight emergency while we both donned our oxygen masks, Rob was shutting down the environmental system, engaging the emergency pressurization, and trying to get the engines not to overspeed. Honestly, I don’t know if I could have handled all that myself. Losing engine control on two engines and pressurization simultaneously is a lot to handle no matter how good you think you are!
Speaking on your behalf
After that inflight emergency, I made one of the biggest mistakes of the project. I called the manufacturer of one of the failed components and told him he almost got Rob and I killed. The manufacturer hung up the phone and wouldn’t talk to me for three months. The project was stopped dead in its tracks. I would practice my superpower of eating crow for the next three months trying to get the manufacturer engaged again with no luck. However, Rob broke the stalemate with frequent calls to the manufacturer. He was able to negotiate a deal to get things going and get the Citizen on her way to the South and North Poles.
Making the extra effort
Early in the project things stalled when the shop that had agreed to remove the engines and send them out for overhaul stopped working on the airplane. It turned out the shop had never rigged turbine engines before and had mostly worked on piston Commanders. The engines sat in boxes for two months before we caught wind that the delays were never going to end. Rob saved the day by flying from Scottsdale, Arizona, out to Stockton, California, and working on them for four days straight in the intense heat. Rob got us to the point where we could get the airplane to CMC and finish the work.
Being available for all those questions we all have
Rob remained available night and day for the 24-month period leading up to departure and for the entire eight months and 23 days of the trip. Operating a 35+ year old aircraft is challenging and is going to have issues when you stretch its performance to the material limits. When I lost the generator portion of my starter-generator in a remote part of Sweden, Rob was flipping through repair manuals, sending me wiring diagrams and had me checking fuses until we diagnosed the problem and found a repair shop enroute to the North Pole.
Calling you on your BS/Giving sage advice
When our project was gridlocked after the second inflight emergency, and I was losing my “Zen” responding to sponsors who said they didn’t think I would ever do the flight, I considered a legal solution to my problems. Rob calmed me down and pointed out that wouldn’t accomplish anything except delaying the project even longer and rattling the sponsors off even more. Rob told me many of these systems were working in other aircraft and our best course of action was to get mine fixed. Again, Rob was right, and I took those systems all the way to the South and North Poles based on his recommendation.
I can’t help but look at all of the qualities that I shared about my top mechanic and acknowledge that these are the same qualities you’ll find in a great friend and mentor. Rob and I spent so much time working together, solving problems and discussing what was possible with this 35-year-old aircraft, that we became much closer. In the process of struggling to complete the mission, I learned a tremendous amount and got to know the aircraft better while my repair skills greatly improved. Rob also taught me how a true philanthropist acts and gives unconditionally on the journey. It is my sincere hope that each of you find a friend and a mechanic to help, guide, and teach you on your journey of flight and exploration.