FLYING Magazine

Friday, the aviation community celebrates national Aviation Maintenance Technician (AMT) Day, which marks the birthday of the first aircraft mechanic, Charles Taylor, and recognizes aircraft mechanics worldwide. 

Taylor built the world’s first aircraft engine from a scratch-paper drawing tacked up to his work bench. He had no formal training and made do with what he had to work with. I am still amazed to this day by what Taylor pulled off.

READ MORE: The First Aircraft Mechanic

Aircraft mechanics often quietly apply our trade behind the scenes, ensuring the world stays connected via air travel. Each of us has a story to tell.

In thinking of the next generation who will work on airplanes, what story would you tell to inspire them? 

Born Into the Business

Some of us cannot help it; we were born into this life. I didn’t choose the jet life; the jet life chose me. My dad worked for the Beechcraft distributor Hangar One in the 1970s. Once, he took me on a business trip with him through middle Georgia, and I took a ride in a taildragger. My life has not been the same since.

This week, I met Suresh Narayanan, owner and CEO of Jets MRO in Dallas. Narayanan is doing what he can to solve the high turnover in aircraft maintenance by offering company-paid benefits, enhanced work culture, and path to partial ownership. He also has no sales representatives and expects his mechanics to communicate with the customer. 

What drove this CEO to appreciate his mechanics in this manner? His father was a Concorde mechanic for British Airways, and he grew up on a steady diet of airplane stories, which he still recalls fondly.

In March, I spent the day at Airbase Georgia, the local Commemorative Air Force (CAF) squadron. The theme was “Rosie the Riveter” in honor of its Stearman project. I witnessed parents walking with their sons and daughters, checking out the swag at the PX tent, taking photos with reenactors, and getting up close and personal with warbirds Some even had custom dog tags made.

One of the best parts was seeing folks, young and old, stand and stare when the Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless taxied up the grinder, its big, powerful engine pounding out a symphony of 1,200 hp before shutting down. I don’t care who you are, a warbird will freeze time for just a minute while you soak it in.

How many aviators or maintainers crossed over that day? What is their story? Only time can tell.

Answering the Call

Paul Hendrickson was just a small child when his father, Joe Paul, left for World War II. What happened in the war changed him forever. I recently had a conversation with Hendrickson just as he was about to wade into his local trout stream at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Hendrickson recently published a book about his father’s experience during the Iwo Jima campaign called Fighting the Night. He told me the story of a sharecropper’s kid who learned to work on tractors in western Kentucky during the 1930s. One day, a Ford Trimotor flew over the farm, and the boy was hooked.

All those hours working on tractors and Ford Model T’s paid off. Paul Hendrickson recalls his father learning of his new job in the military.

“He had boot camp ahead of him, but the Air Corps Technical School had already promised him a place in its airplane mechanics class,” Hendrickson said.

Tech school began in the fall of 1937 at Chanute Field in Rantoul, Illinois. The elder Hendrickson’s WWII story began as a mechanic but ended with flying night missions in a P-61 Black Widow. Afterward, Joe Paul Hendrickson earned his A&E mechanic license, the precursor to the A&P.

The old Chanute Field became Chanute Air Force Base before closing in 1993. An estimated 2 million students trained there. Each was either a farm boy or a city kid, but they answered the call and had to live their own story. 

Coming Full Circle

Sometimes a story begins with a simple idea. Stacey Rudser, president and scholarship chair of the Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance (AWAM), had such an idea when she enrolled and became the first female to graduate from the Aviation Institute of Maintenance (AIM) in Orlando, Florida, earning her A&P in 2009. You may have seen Rudser’s pink boots sticking out of an avionics bay at some point.

Rudser offered her thoughts on what AMT Day means to her.

“On this AMT Day, AWAM celebrates all the women working to keep our skies safe,” she said. “We are a small but mighty part of this very special industry and are encouraged to see how many women are entering the ranks of schools and transitioning to the military. Thank you to all the mentors, advocates, and allies as we continue to show that aviation maintenance is a vibrant and viable career for all.”

How did Rudser’s maintenance story begin? In 2013, she earned a 767 maintenance training scholarship for UPS through AWAM. Life has a way of coming full circle, and Rudser went from that honor 13 years ago to personally touching the lives of 26 young women through scholarship awards this year.

Now, that is how you pay it forward.

The post AMT Day Offers Opportunity to Inspire Next Generation appeared first on FLYING Magazine.

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