Published March 2006
In a county known for its aviation industry, Everett Community College is at the forefront of training future aircraft engine and airframe mechanics.
“We’ve had an aviation mechanics program at Paine Field for 38 years,” said Bill Loomis, director of the school’s aviation maintenance program that’s housed in 48,000 square feet of training space and offices in three attached buildings.
From a low of 25 students after Sept. 11, 2001, today’s aviation maintenance program serves 50 students, but the facility can handle up to 100, he said, noting the facility’s enrollment is increasing and is expected soon to be back to its more normal level of 65 students.
“People are coming back to aviation and aviation maintenance. Normally, this is a day program, but we could go past the 100 limit by adding evening classes. We’ll step up to increasing demand as it comes,” Loomis said. “But we always need to keep our class sizes manageable. The FAA limits us to 25 students per instructor to maintain the quality of the instruction. I don’t want to just push larger numbers of students through if it means they aren’t able to get plenty of individual instruction and have time to really absorb everything.”
Assisting Loomis are three other advisers and instructors in the program, including Earl Brown, Pat Murphy and Tom Hatton.
Students spend 40 percent of their time in classrooms, the rest in lab work repairing engines, making composite materials and learning how reciprocal and turbine engines operate. A certificate from the program allows graduates to take FAA exams for their airframe and power plant licenses.
Combined with academic programs, the aviation center also provides associate degree programs, one in technical arts and aviation or another in arts and sciences with an emphasis on aviation maintenance management opportunities, such as foremen, supervisors and inspectors.
“With a minimum of 1,900 hours of training, we cover 43 different subject areas, from welding and hydraulics to engines and airframes, composites, machining metals and things like filling out proper forms and safety programs,” said Loomis.
He said he’s proud that the college’s program has survived as one of 153 similar schools in the United States, compared to nearly 300 schools some 20 years ago, he said.
Overall, the college program provides eight quarters of study, or 2,040 hours, that include hands-on work on a variety of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. The hangar attached to the classroom and laboratory buildings is filled with aircraft that include a military Huey helicopter, an OH-58A Army equivalent to a civilian Bell JetRanger and an Air Force T-39 that became the basis for the Sabreliner Model 40 in 1963, the world’s first twin-engine business jet.
“We don’t fly the planes, but we look for ones that are complete so our students can work on them. When we get retired military aircraft from a government surplus program, for example, we always make sure they have a civilian counterpart so the training has broader employment applications,” Loomis said.
One of the most recent aircraft acquired was a Cessna 205 flown as an avionics test bed by Honeywell International, which has a facility adjacent to the college’s aviation facility. Students will periodically tear it down, overhaul the engine, remove wheels and brakes, rig its flight controls and install new radios and flight instruments, even running up the engine occasionally to test operating systems.
The program also shares a $1.4 million Department of Labor grant to the TRIAD partnership that includes Everett and Edmonds community colleges, the Boeing Co. and other manufacturing industries, the Snohomish County Workforce Development Council and the county’s Economic Development Council for training workers in composites and advanced technologies.
“We’re in discussions now with Boeing and Goodrich (Aerospace Services) to help them with their work-force needs. Also, the two community colleges have an FAA grant for promoting technical competencies in advanced maintenance skills, specifically for the type of composite structure that makes up 70 percent of the new 787,” Loomis said.
Instructor Tom Hatton, who works with the students on power plants, went through the course himself for a career change. After 30 years of electronic products repair, he saw the trend shift to replacing items rather than repairing them. Becoming an aircraft mechanic, he worked for Goodrich in quality control before joining the EvCC program.
“Employment for our graduates isn’t all in the county. One went to Venice to work with Alitalia, some go into turbine engine work in the marine industry,” he said.
Loomis said the school depends on the aviation industry for aircraft and equipment donations and other assistance.
“You can never get enough leading-edge technology for students to work on. That’s always a challenge for a public college with a limited budget, so the aircraft, engines and equipment donated to us are a tremendous help,” he said.
He also works closely with an aviation advisory committee that offers direction on the school’s curriculum, operations and future path. Members include Snohomish County Airport Director Dave Waggoner, Future of Flight Aviation Center Executive Director Barry Smith and representatives from Boeing and Alaska Air, among others.
Loomis, a veteran of Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard service, said there are great peripheral advantages for students coming to the center at Paine Field because of its location, adjacent to runways and taxiways at one of Washington state’s largest general aviation airports. Neighbors include Boeing’s giant assembly plant for its 747, 767, 777 and 787 airliners; Goodrich’s airliner maintenance and modification facility, the nation’s largest; the airport’s flight training and maintenance services; and Embry-Riddle University’s Northwest aviation training center.
Across the runway is the newly opened $27 million Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour facility that focuses on past and future airliner technology. Displays include a 787 composite fuselage section and three-dimensional holograms, technology that soon may be used for training mechanics faster by allowing them to disassemble and rebuild virtual engines.
“This training center at Paine Field is the starting point for most of the people who are going to make aviation maintenance a career, a crossroads for people with many backgrounds, ages and cultures training together for a lot of different reasons, some out of high school, some from the military or other career fields,” he said.
Loomis said some of those who finish the classes find jobs with Boeing, Goodrich, the airlines or other aviation employers. Others have specific goals. One student planned to go into missionary aviation, another into helicopters and another wanted to work in Alaska’s bush-flying environment, while another student wanted to restore vintage aircraft.
“Those who enroll here have a real purpose, so they’re excited about being here,” he said.
Overall, the aviation technology school at Paine Field is a major asset that will keep the college engaged in the spiraling growth of aerospace technology, enabling the school to link that technology to the real world by passing it on to students who will work in many new arenas.
But with all the talk of new aviation technology, instructor Pat Murphy likes to remind people not to forget the past.
“We may be into composite materials now, but we can’t forget there are thousands and thousands of riveted aircraft with older engines and airframes that will need people to work on them for years to come,” he said.
© The Daily Herald Co., Everett, WA