By Keith Horton
Picture of Jon Proctor

There has been an E-mail rattling around the Internet lately about some of the wonderful things that WD-40 can do. In addition to the many lubricating jobs around the house and shops where it can be helpful, it is claimed that WD-40 will do many other unexpected things.

For instance, it will keep silver from  tarnishing … it will keep flies off cows … it will keep pigeons off a balcony … it will attract fish if sprayed on live bait or on the lure … and it will even ease the pain of fire ant bites, to mention only a few.

But I remember an instance back about 40 years ago when it didn’t do such a good job in the early days of TWA`s operation of 707-131B`s.

The Pratt & Whitney engine thrust reversers would tend to stick, and the usual “fix” was for a mechanic to grab a can of WD-40 (the “mechanic`s friend”) and copiously spray the thrust reverser parts, which would loosen them up and get the ailing airplane on its way without a mechanical delay being charged to that station, only to have the same sticky problem show up again at the next station where it would (you guessed it) get yet another shot of WD-40.

That continuing problem of sticking thrust reversers caused MCI Power Plant Engineer Dick (Pinkey) Pinkston a lot of concern as he wondered what was causing the problem and how to remedy it.

One Monday morning, however, Pinky came to work with a smile on his face and said that he knew what was causing that stickiness problem. Over the weekend he had put some WD-40 on his lawn mower and found that when applied to a hot surface, the WD-40 would get as sticky as Super Glue. 

So word was sent out across the system telling the mechanics not to use WD-40 on the thrust reversers, but a more suitable lubricant hadn’t yet been found. Pinky, along with some other crafty Power Plant Engineers, came up with a solution of molybdenium-disulphide powder mixed with alcohol that did the job. The alcohol would carry the lubricating powder to the appropriate places and then would quickly evaporate … problem solved!

Were there any other applications where WD-40 was not very good?  I heard from one source that it also didn`t work very well on bicycle chains, but apparently American bike-makers Schwinn and Huffy didn’t think to ask TWA, Pratt & Whitney or Boeing.

Keith Horton, 1941-1983, served in Maintenance/Technical Services Engineering and Field Maintenance.