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Anode Rods

The passing of Queen Elizabeth in September at the age of 96 ended the longest reign of a monarch in the history of the British monarchy. 

I am writing this a week before the royal funeral, but it is anticipated to be an amazing and extraordinary event that will surpass even the outpouring of grief and reverence seen at the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997. In her 1947 birthday address upon turning 21, then Princess Elizabeth set the tone of her reign with a commitment to a “life of service” to the people, the Commonwealth and the Empire. Among British royalty, Queen Elizabeth II will remain one of the most beloved figures in the history of the British Empire.

“Service” is a great word in the English language with many definitions and parts of speech. As a noun, it’s “the occupation or function of serving,” “work performed by one that serves,” a “burial service,” or “the act of serving.” It is also used as a verb, “to repair or service a furnace” or “servicing debt on a loan.”

When I was a kid growing up in Texas, my dad, a member of that “Greatest Generation,” was an aircraft maintenance technician (they were probably “mechanics” back then) in the Army Air Corps. After the war, he went to work for a regional wholesale plumbing, heating, and air conditioning company in Lubbock, TX. He not only knew the wholesaling business, but he was a good tradesman in his own right, with construction, auto maintenance, and plumbing skills. I used to go with him to help our neighbors and friends who needed those types of things done; replacing a toilet, changing out a water heater, or installing a sink faucet. On one of those jobs, I learned about anode rods. In short, an anode rod is a “sacrificial” rod in a water heater that helps protect against chemicals in water that hasten the destruction of the inner lining of the water heater. When metals and water combine, corrosion results, and aircraft owners know all too well what corrosion can do to the integrity of airplane components. To prevent the accelerated corrosion inside the water heater, really smart people in the plumbing and chemistry world created the anode rod that attracts the corrosive elements in the water/metal interaction that slowly destroy the anode rod first, leaving the metal of the heater tank and heating element alone, thus extending the life of the tank.

We are all anode rods to some extent, as we give ourselves to the service of others. That is certainly evident in our world of general aviation as volunteers offer their time and airplanes to provide much needed resources during natural disasters, as seen in relief efforts following Hurricane Irma in 2017. Corporate turbine operators volunteer to deliver participants to the Special Olympics and have done so for many years. GA pilots fly rescued animals to their “furever homes” through the Pilots n Paws program. Our EMS pilots and nurses, aerial firefighters, and law enforcement all give up something of themselves through dedicated efforts. We even joke about it here in the Pilot Information Center that we are the anode rods as we help members work through some of the complex situations involving aircraft purchases, enforcement actions, medical certification, and disagreements between aircraft owners and airport management. Fortunately, our human service to others doesn’t break us down nearly as fast as the anode rods in our water heaters that have to be replaced every few years.

In our world in the medical certification group, we interact with the FAA’s Office of Aerospace Medicine in Washington, the Aerospace Medical Certification Division, and the FAA regional medical offices to help get pilots medically certificated as quickly as possible. The last couple of years have been challenging in the post-Covid world, and delays are making everyone unhappy, from new student pilots trying to get a medical to solo, to professional pilots who need a medical to work. The FAA doesn’t take these delays lightly, but in the medical certification bureaucracy, there really isn’t an “anode rod” that we can rely on to smooth out the rough road we’re currently on. Some things just take longer than most of us think they should take to reach a decision. Our AOPA Board of Aviation Medical Advisors met recently and are planning a meeting soon with the Federal Air Surgeon to try to find some short-term and long- term solutions to the processing delays we are seeing now. I’ll update you down the road as we work on this major issue.

Enjoy the cooler fall weather and keep on flyin’!

Portrait of Gary Crump, AOPA's director of medical certification with a Cessna 182 Skylane at the National Aviation Community Center.
AOPA NACC (FDK)
Frederick, MD USA

Gary Crump

Gary is the Director of AOPA’s Pilot Information Center Medical Certification Section and has spent the last 32 years assisting AOPA members. He is also a former Operating Room Technician, Professional Firefighter/Emergency Medical Technician, and has been a pilot since 1973.

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