Aviation

A DC-3 ready for take off.

Leaning on a building at CFB Winnepeg

I have been in love with airplanes since the second grade. My love for aviation began with a coloring project for remembrance day. The picture I chose was of a CF-104 Star Fighter and I spent a lot of time trying to make the color scheme as accurate as possible. I read as many books on airplanes as I could and watched aviation programs on TV religiously. My favorite was a special on the Snow Birds. I had it on VHS and would watch it over and over. I later joined Air cadets and basically lived and breathed the military for the entire time I was enrolled. I spent a great deal of time on Canadian Forces bases across the country attending weekend and summer training camps.

  • 2 week Basic course @ CFB Penhold 93′
  • 2 week Aircrew Survival course @ CFB Cold Lake 94′
  • 6 week MTC course @ CFB Penhold 95′
  • 6 week Survival Instructor course @ CFB GreenWood 96′
  • 7 week Pilot License Program @ CFB Winnipeg 97′

My goal was to attend Royal Military College straight out of high school, but alas my 79.8% average did not meet the 80% minimum requirement set out by the Canadian Forces for entry. So I enrolled in a commercial pilot program through a college to try and use the College Entry Program mandated by the Canadian Forces. After my first year of college, I enrolled a second time with the Forces only to find out that the college entry program was being scrapped. I was not impressed, but decided that a civilian pilots life would not be so bad.

Nearing the completion college, a recruiting officer stopped by to tell us that they were pushing one last set of people through the college entry program before its closure. Anyone who wanted to try should re-apply. This was music to my ears, so I headed down to the recruiting office for a third and final time. It was March of 2001.

UZW, the aircraft I flew to earn my Private Pilots License

I graduated in April 2001 and was eager to use my fresh Commercial Multi IFR pilots license. I had yet to secure my first pilot job, so I started working construction to help pay off the huge loans. I finally heard back from the military in July and was shipped out to Toronto for a full medical in August. That was the most intense medical I had even taken. Because I was a non-smoker, they asked to perform some extra testing for statistical reasons. I agreed and spent a total of three days as a lab rat. Unfortunately the testing would not be a completely positive experience.

It was found during the testing that I had a heart condition that would fail my medical. Mitral Valve Prolapse was the name and they told me that pulling high G’s in a fighter would potentially kill me. I was devastated, all this time of dreaming had finally come crashing down. But the crash had only just begun. Shortly after I returned home to try and figure out where I should go next, something unreal happened. A bunch of idiots decided to crash some planes into the sides of tall buildings. I didn’t know it at the time, but 9/11 would alter my career path.

The insurance nightmare that followed would hit the entire aviation industry hard. Insurance rates went up and so did the pilot hourly requirements, many people lost their jobs overnight. Suddenly it was required for all pilots to have 500 hours experience to be insurable. The market was flooded with low time pilots and all available jobs dried up. My future was looking bleak, but I remembered what one potential employer had told me.

He said that many small operators are looking for pilots with maintenance know how. Being able to fix planes and fly them was an asset. I had excelled at the maintenance portions of my commercial pilots training, so I figured it was a good idea to try. So I went back to school to learn how to fix airplanes instead.

Radial Engine on a Harvard

Turning wrenches comes pretty natural to me. I had always loved to tinker and figure out how devices worked. Tearing things apart and reassembling them was fun. So I actually found school to be pretty boring. I already had a commercial pilots license, so there was a great deal of overlapping material that I had already memorized. I would fall asleep in class all the time. I can remember several occasions where I was dozing and just barely conscious. I would hear the teachers question, nobody would answer, so I would come to and spit out the answer and then go back to dozing. Naturally there were many people who didn’t like me for that. I was drifting through maintenance school with a 4.0 GPA.

The real learning happened at night. I had found a part time job at the airport working the ramp. When fueling and parking airplanes was complete, I would work on the planes with the mechanics. I was hoping this would turn into a full time job when I graduated, but the company went under before that could happen. Some coworkers had jumped ship early, and recommended that I join them. So I started working the ramp for the competition. Ramp work is pretty boring, so I was pushing for a mechanics position. Nine months later it was granted with a nice hefty raise as well. I was pretty happy, I was making good money to do something fun and educational. It almost felt like robbery.

I would eventually earn my M1 /M2 Aircraft Maintenance Engineers license. I was working on Citations, King Airs, and Beech 1900s, but I found a real love for the Dash 8. This is a great airplane that is a joy to work on. There are very few crap jobs and I definitely started to believe that bigger is better. After four years of working, I was presented with an opportunity to advance. A new crew chief was needed and no one wanted to take the position. There were guys with more experience than I, but the job was left for me to take. So I took it. Shortly after I figured out why no one wanted it. More stress, 24/7 calls, and no pay raise. WHAT? That’s right, I was promoted and did not get compensation. I was pretty annoyed at the fact that I was actually one of the lowest paid guys on my crew…and I’m the crew chief.

A project C-clamp I hand crafted during AME studies.

So it was off to the bosses office to figure out what gives. A wage freeze of course. I pleaded for more money but none was given. I felt like I was being shown the door, so I walked through. I never would have suspected it, but the new job I found felt like a step in the wrong direction. I was working for a very small company on very small airplanes. But I would be working Monday to Friday during daylight hours and would be given a hefty raise. The real bonus, was that I could pursue my pilots license again. It had been over 5 years since I had taken the controls of an aircraft.

I have been working on these little fart carts for over 5 years now and have logged a fair amount of time flying again. I have now started to show my children the joy of flight, hopefully they will realize the dream I have not yet achieved…to fly professionally. Because I spend most of my time at the airport, I have the opportunity to photograph the aircraft I work on and fly in. And now my career path takes yet another turn.

DOM

Working Hard on Piston Powered Aircraft.

The circumstances have changed and I was the sucker left holding the stick…so to speak. I was promoted to official scape goat in the maintenance department. I hold the title of “Director of Maintenance” and am fully in charge of running the shop. This new direction has really been eating up my time and many hobbies have fallen to the way side. The level of responsibility is high and I can’t afford to make mistakes anymore.

Well, that was then, and after 2 years of trying to bring the shop into the 20th century, I came to realize that I spinning my wheels. This is not something I like to do. Forward progress is a must. After analyzing my position in life, I came to realize that my current placement had never been a part of my original plans. This move seven years ago was made as a temporary hold while our family financial position stabilized. Now that life had become less rocky there was no real reason to stick with this temporary location.  I decided that it was time for me to move on to a location where my forward thinking and drive could be put to better use.

Thus I have left the world of small aircraft behind and moved back into the realm of large commercial turbo props and Jets. And this move feels so right. I had forgotten how nice it is to work on aircraft that are designed for rapid repair, that have proper support, and well written maintenance documents. Mainly, I had forgotten what its like to be truely engaged with your work and focused on the task at hand. The only downside in this life move is that I am back working shifts, which are often at night. It takes a while to get back into swing of things and let your body adjust to the changes. But I once again feel that my contributions to the work force are fully appreciated and have purpose. I am using the full scope of my license and being compensated appropriately. Life feels so much better when you re-take control of it.

Some useful aviation pages: