Standards, tolerances, and acceptable limits. These are terms that are all used throughout various mechanical and engineering industries, particularly in my field of aircraft maintenance. But before you look at the topic and decide you’re not interested in this sort of stuff, let me ask you to be patient. Because this isn’t going to be an article about anything industrial, although there are going to be examples to illustrate some points. So please hang with me, it’s an important discussion that we need to consider.
Imagine that you’re an F-16 pilot and the crew chief has been out inspecting the aircraft before you go fly. There was a new set of written instructions that came out regarding the ejection seat handle and you’ve been briefed on those standards and what they are. As you go out to the jet you notice the crew chief with his head down in the cockpit busily working. Climbing up on the maintenance stand next to the aircraft, you see that he’s working with some measuring equipment on the ejection handle and has the documentation out for the particular inspection. You ask him how things are going. He starts to recount all the steps he’s followed and all the measurements that he’s found but as he’s speaking you realize that some of the measurements that he’s giving you are not the same ones from the data that you got in the briefing. So, you inquire a little bit further and ask him to reiterate the measurements that were found.
Airman Bagodonutz seems to be a little miffed at having to answer a pilot about the inspection, but he continues, albeit reluctantly. “Well Sir, as you know the cable is supposed to have a tolerance of 10 thousandths inch on either side of the rivet and this one’s got 11 thou and so that’s just right at the edge of the limit. The cable also has about 16 thousandths of an ounce of slack and the limitation for that is 13 thou. Again, it’s very close and the handle is also supposed to have no defects near the pivot point but I did notice a small crack. It’s about three thousandths of an inch.”
The pilot looks at him and says, “So are you telling me that every single one of these items is not in standard and out of tolerance and has not met acceptable limits? Is that what you’re saying?”
“Well Sir, I guess that’s true but only by a little bit, and if we go fix all these things now the jets gonna be down for the day and I feel like that it’s all gonna be fine and there’s nothing to worry about. Especially since we know that the engineers are super conservative, and they always build in some slack and some safety margins. Add to that they’re kind of scaredy cats sometimes. Besides that, most of our jets are exhibiting these same amounts of tolerances and we haven’t had any problems yet with any of them.”
I should mention here they were talking about ejection seat control handles and there have been a number of instances over the years where ejection seats didn’t fire and safely leave the aircraft, specifically because there were components mis-installed or worn beyond limits or defective, and in many cases caused the death of the pilot. The question for you as a pilot is: Are the standards important to you and do you want those standards intolerances and allowances to be followed? I would assume that most sane people would say yes they want those standards and tolerances and limits to be followed, mainly because you want that system to work when you need it. Nobody wants to die. So any rational pilot would take things up the chain of command regarding Airman Bagodonutz and refuse to take the aircraft until the system gets fixed and adjusted properly to bring them back into allowable limits and standards and tolerances.
Consider anything you buy. A car, a house, a piece of equipment, whatever it happens to be and you’re driving home in the car and the front wheel is banging around as you’re driving. You take it back to the dealer and they say well there’s a certain amount of tolerance that’s allowed in that, and this one just seems to be a little on the sloppy side, but it shouldn’t be any problem at all. Well, I don’t think any of us are gonna be that interested in having a car with a floppy wheel up front. Let’s face it we don’t even like the floppy wheel on the cart at the grocery store and we will abandon it as quickly as possible. If our house had a big gaping hole and they said, “Oh well, you know there’s a rule if you can’t see it from 12 feet away then it’s not really a defect.” We wouldn’t accept that because we are very much people who believe in standards being made and kept.
Let’s take it over to other areas of the military, let’s say dress and appearance. We stumble across our buddy Airman Bagodonutz and he’s got a mustache that’s truthfully half an inch longer than it’s supposed to be. His supervisor pulls him off to the side to question him about the length of his facial hair. Airman Bagodonutz replies that he doesn’t see what the big deal is over half an inch of extra hair. The supervisor goes on to then quote the standards of dress and appearance for facial hair. He points out to the airman that he has exceeded those. The airman’s response is just that he disagrees with the standards and thinks they’re arbitrary and unfair and they are encroaching on his personal well-being regarding his outlook on life. And that his hair is very important to him and how he feels about himself with how his hair looks and how he’s able to style it. He wraps it up with. “You can’t tell me what to do! I am an individual with rights!”
The supervisor, taken aback by this, goes to the commander to ask for her advice on the situation. But the commander also ends up also being in a bit of a quandary because she doesn’t want the self-esteem of Airman Bagodonutz to be negatively impacted since his hair is so important. So, the two of them decide not to say anything more about it. A few weeks later the Sergeant notices that quite a few people on base have not only longer mustaches but longer hair, fingernail polish that’s not approved, jewelry that’s not approved, hairstyles that are not approved, uniforms not being worn in an approved way, and even certain embellishments are being added to the uniforms. When some of these airmen are approached their answers are much like those of Airman Bago donutz. The management team is stuck between a rock and hard place now and they notice a few weeks later that the shift supervisors are beginning to complain that workers are not showing up on time, they’re taking long breaks, they’re not where they’re supposed to be, they’re missing appointments, aircraft aren’t being fixed correctly, missions are being lost, and people are disappearing early at the end of the day. In effect, the flying mission has been degraded to the point that it’s become non-combat effective.
We could apply this in so many areas of life, couldn’t we? not just the military. Can we all agree that standards, tolerances, and acceptable limits, are important to the good functioning of society? If you don’t agree with the statement then take a few moments to think about what your life would be like without them. What if each gas station owner decided to install different size nozzles because that’s the size that they like? What if stairs and buildings were set at a pitch in height that fit the desires of the owner and of the builder and not by a standard? What if every house had different electrical systems that worked off different powersets? What if the fuel that you got for your car varied so much by the standard that the next time you filled the tank up the car wouldn’t run and you’d have to drain it all and go find some other gas? What if the names of the cosmetics that you typically buy didn’t change but they just changed the names to something different because they had millions of packages with the wrong name on them and didn’t want to throw them away?
Do you see the implications of what happens if we don’t have standards, tolerances, and allowances? Do you want to fly on a commercial airliner where all the mechanics and engineers have been using different standards and tolerances to work on the aircraft and keep it in service? Or would you be scared to death to get on that airplane? You even hear one mechanic yelling that the other one that he doesn’t care what the book says, he knows what he’s doing and nobody has a right to tell him otherwise!
US Airways Flight 1549 after crashing into the Hudson River in New York City. 15 January 2009. Source.
Now let’s carry this discussion into the more difficult area of individual personal behavior. Are there standards, tolerances, and acceptable limits for human behavior? Most people I believe would say yes, and that’s the easy part of the equation. It’s very easy to say yes, but it’s very difficult to define what is an unacceptable limit, what should be tolerated, and what standards of behavior are. And the reason they’re difficult to define is that we must first decide who’s allowed to define those standards and most people don’t give that much thought.
So, let’s ask the question. Who sets the standards? In early childhood, it’s the parents, schools, and religious organizations. But we also have the overarching entities of the various federal and state city governments enacting those standards via laws and ordinances. Theoretically, they are all designed for the good order and function of society, except for the fact that humans are involved. Remember Airman Bagodonutz, didn’t feel like the rules were fair and applied to him and so he just decided to ignore the ones that he didn’t like. Take for a moment the case of someone in a sports car doing 115 miles an hour through a 15 mph school zone and their reason is they just disagree with the law and refuse to follow it. Most people would be incensed about that and say he should have been following the law because he could have killed a kid. And yet those same people often who hold up the law as a standard will do 25 an hour faster out on the Interstate because they’re late for work. We can name a whole host of other laws and standards that people break when they disagree with them. Even the very politicians who enact the laws will break them when it’s convenient.
Now let’s delve deeper into this concept of folks saying, “Well these rules don’t apply to me, I don’t believe in them, and I’m not gonna follow them.” Let’s just say that we accept that as a society and let everybody follow the rules and make them feel the best and ignore the rest. What are the long-term implications of that? How would society evolve over the next 10 to 20 years if everyone took that attitude and it was accepted by everyone? Does anyone want their neighbor parking their car in your garage and there’s nothing you could do about it because there are no standards or laws? Because remember, the laws are the standards and the limits, but if everybody is allowed to do what they want, then the laws and the limits are negated.
That means a man can come into your house while you’re there and take your wife and you can only idly stand by and watch. Or I guess you could end their lives because there are no standards and the police aren’t going to come for you. But then his family members would then come to take revenge and then your family members are gonna take revenge and then houses would be burning and neighborhoods would be burning, but nobody would go to jail because there are no standards and everything is tolerated.
We have a small minority within this country and even throughout the world who are making an effort to define what the standards, tolerances, and acceptable limits are for everyone else outside their group. As an example, we have militant trans people who are calling for violence and calling for laws to punish people who don’t accept their choices to become a trans person. We see the same things going on with some of the gay communities and within the drag queen movement and a gender reaffirmation gender assignment for children as young as six, often without parents’ knowledge or approval. But unfortunately, these folks haven’t thought things down to a logical conclusion.
If this is all allowed because it’s what they want, and they can set the standards, then what stops all the other groups who want different standards? I might really want all this stuff in your house and so we decided the standard is that if you can’t keep your house locked up well enough, then anyone’s welcome to come take all your stuff by violence if necessary. My neighbor decides that he wants to become a mortician in a graveyard and starts burying bodies in his backyard next to my house, then there’s nothing I can do about it. Older men can start marrying 6-year-olds because that’s what they want and that’s the standard that they feel is best for them. Kidnapping and sex trafficking are all on the board because that’s what those people want. This is the logical conclusion of not having standards, tolerances, and acceptable limits that apply across the board to all people.
Once again though we fall back into this question of who sets the standards, who determines tolerance, and who lays out the acceptable limitations?
In the Bible, there’s a passage that makes a very profound statement. It comes from Judges 17:6 and it says, “In those days there was no king in Israel everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
Then another one in Deuteronomy 12:8, “You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today. everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes.”
Isn’t that like what is going on today? Even though we do have laws and restrictions we have people who are just saying I’m going to do what I think is right in my own eyes. Have you ever heard someone say, “I just have to do what’s right for me?”
It’s really the essence of these two biblical passages where people are just doing what feels right to them and what makes them happy, ignoring the standards and the tolerances and the limitations that were set out. And in all those cases. things didn’t turn out well for those people who did that. Things only turned out well for those who were following God’s standards, tolerances, and limitations. Part of the problem is that man isn’t a very good lawmaker. Look how long it takes sometimes to get a law passed through because it’s just so poorly written and has so many loopholes, some are maybe even illegal, and in the end, it still ends up being imperfect.
One of God’s laws says that you should treat others as you want to be treated. And when the special interest groups come along and start to want to force their standards on everybody else, we commonly see that they are not treating us the way that they are asking us to treat them. There have already been laws enacted to try and force this sort of stuff. And as we all know, laws are never perfect and don’t really change people’s attitudes, and for the most part, they just make people clam up so that they don’t get in trouble. But they don’t really change.
So, what are the good standards, good tolerances, and acceptable limits, that have the ability to work well for all of mankind? Of course, we do have humans involved, and humans are imperfect, but if you’ve got perfect standards then the outcome is certainly going to be much better in the long run.
Listen to this passage from Colossians 3, “Put to death therefore the components of your earthly nature, sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience. When you lived among them you also used to walk in these ways, but now you must put aside all such things as these, anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to one another since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of the creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and is in all. Therefore, is the elect of God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bear with one another, and forgive any complaint you may have against someone else, forgive us, the Lord forgave you, and over all these virtues put on love, which is the bond of perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts for to this you were called as members of one body, and be thankful, let the word of Christ richly dwell within you as you teach and admonish one another, with all wisdom, and as you sing songs hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God, and whatever you do in Word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the father through him.”
Think about that standard, that level of tolerance, that level of acceptable limits. What would our world be like if those were the standards we follow? Think of all the things that I’ve discussed so far in this article and then apply those biblical principles to those things and how would they change? If everyone is thinking more highly of themselves and putting others first how could you then go on into a school and shoot a bunch of children? How could you run a car into a crowd at a festival?
Certain fringe groups ask for tolerance and acceptance. What I hear them saying is that they want people to tell them that what they’re doing is right and OK and perfectly acceptable and that they agree with them doing that.
Simply saying, it’s your choice to do that and I won’t stand in your way, but I don’t agree that it’s the best choice and I don’t think it’s right. That is not an acceptable response to them. For some reason, there seems to be a pressing desire to be vindicated in their choices by others, and they will get that affirmation by law, if necessary.
And there lies the crux of the problem. One group wants the other to say something that the other does not believe and doesn’t want to lie about, but they are perfectly happy, for the most part, to leave the other group alone to let them do their own thing. But that’s not good enough for them. and it’s when that group starts working its way into elementary schools in the form of drag shows, advertising, kids’ books, and cartoon shows, all trying to normalize gender dysphoria in children, working to normalize fringe behaviors that are not the generally accepted norms and are not contrary from God’s word, it’s then that the majority of folks have to put their feet down and say no.
And I know this group who disagrees with this aberrant behavior. They will face you in the school boards, the city councils, the State Capitols, the courtrooms, and in the fields.
But if you live a peaceful life, be good neighbors, and mind your own business, then we can have a nice neighborhood block party and live in harmony.
A society that does not have enforced standards tolerances and limitations will ultimately devolve into anarchy and be destroyed. Work together for the common good or we will cease to be as a people.
Standards tolerances and acceptable limits.
Dave Chamberlin served 38 years in the USAF and Air National Guard as an aircraft crew chief, where he retired as a CMSgt. He has held a wide variety of technical, instructor, consultant, and leadership positions in his more than 40 years of civilian and military aviation experience. Dave holds an FAA Airframe and Powerplant license from the FAA, as well as a Master’s degree in Aeronautical Science. He currently runs his own consulting and training company and has written for numerous trade publications.
His true passion is exploring and writing about issues facing the military, and in particular, aircraft maintenance personnel.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.