In our April/May issue, we travel to Antarctica with Enterprise Aviation Group, go behind the scenes with Air Transat, and deliver an update on the CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopter!
Royal Canadian Air Force air maintenance technicians know all about pressure.
They know that Canadian Armed Forces’ readiness and the ability to deliver air power whenever and wherever required depends heavily on their ability to maintain RCAF aircraft so that they are ready to deploy on operations at a moment’s notice.
This April, the RCAF notched up that pressure by sending five teams–more than 30 personnel–to Atlanta, Ga., for four days to compete in the annual Aerospace Maintenance Competition, sponsored by the Aerospace Maintenance Council (AMC).
Sgt Dawn Dearing of the Aerospace Evaluations and Testing Establishment (AETE) at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alta., knows a thing or two about competing alongside the aviation industry’s best and brightest. She participated as a member of the Elevate Aviation Team at last year’s AMC event in Orlando, Fla. (Elevate Aviation is a Canadian non-profit company that “provides a platform for women to thrive and succeed through aviation.”)
Her exposure to the competition generated the idea of entering RCAF teams this year.
The AMC’s 2019 competition comprised 30 air maintenance tasks; each one was designed, developed, supervised and judged by a variety of airlines, aviation organizations and industries. The maintainers’ skills were challenged in the disciplines of inspection, troubleshooting, repairs and testing. Tasks included wheel and brake removal and inspection, dent damage evaluation on an airframe panel, aileron cable rigging, troubleshooting aircraft power distribution systems and more
Eighty-four teams, representing militaries, civilian airlines, aviation companies, as well as high schools and colleges with aviation programs, were pitted against each other, racing against the clock to follow a prescribed scenario with a detailed set of instructions.
In addition to the competition being a new experience for the RCAF technicians and based on practices followed by civilian aviation industries and organizations, the technicians had to complete all tasks in 15 minutes or less. While Dearing agrees that technicians have to be able to work under pressure, she is quick to clarify that the pressure they experience at their squadrons doesn’t really translate into a timed competition type of situation.
“For me, this [competition] is about the elevation of what we do,” she explained. “When we’re back home, we are not under that time pressure. We know we have to meet our operational commitments, and we need to put the rubber on the ramp when we need it there but, at the same time, if we have to step back and say, ‘I can’t do that in the next five minutes,’ they understand that. But here, you have 15 minutes, and then you put your tools down and you walk away.”
The contest was fierce, with remarkable talents exhibited by young students and aviation veterans alike.
“This competition is amazing; there’s no other way of looking at it,” said CWO Steve Godin, the air maintenance branch chief warrant officer. “They’ve touched just about every aspect of work on an aircraft.”
Despite the challenges, the RCAF maintainers more than held their own throughout the competition.
The team from 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron, located in Winnipeg, took second place overall in the military category and Sgt Amélie Côté from the 4 Wing team won the award for best time on task number three: aircraft technologies group sheet metal accuracy. This task required competitors to test their “sheet metal/structures skill and accuracy for locating a part, laying out/marking holes and shims, drilling and dragging holes, as required, in aluminum parts.”
“Their knowledge of aircraft is just phenomenal,” said Godin. “They’ve showed us they are leaders. We are very proud of them.”
The competition also gave RCAF technicians an amazing opportunity to try new disciplines, to learn from a wide array of experiences, and to gain fresh perspectives.
“It’s been really nice to see the emerging technologies that are developing in the aerospace industry,” said Cpl Nick Burley, a member of the 435 Squadron team. “When you’ve been working on an airframe for a while, you kind of get set in your ways, and this is a nice way to break out, see new technologies . . . and how we can maybe do our job more effectively and more efficiently.”
“The best value of this competition, for me, was when the technicians were outside of their comfort zones,” said Col Andrew Wedgwood, the air maintenance branch advisor. “They were doing tasks [that were] perhaps outside of their trades, but what’s important is how they reacted outside of that comfort zone, because it’s going to happen during their careers.”
Next year’s event will be held in Dallas, Texas, and, with this year’s success under their belts, many of the RCAF competitors are already raring to go.
Perhaps, however, as Cpl Samantha Yeadon of the RCAF “Spitfires” team says, the best reward is the realization that “this competition gives us the confidence to do more than we think we can.”
Five RCAF teams competed in Atlanta:
- 4 Wing Team, led by Sgt Dearing. This team comprised technicians from units belonging to 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alta.
- 401 “Rams,” from 401 Tactical Fighter Squadron, led by WO Darryl Poole. 401 Squadron is also located at 4 Wing.
- 19 Wing Search and Rescue Maintenance Team, led by Sgt Brad Saunders. This team comprises technicians from several squadrons at 19 Wing Comox, B.C.
- 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron, led by Sgt Serena Cross. 435 Squadron is also based at 19 Wing.
- The RCAF “Spitfires,” an all-female team, led by MWO Theresa Nevills. This team brought together women from several RCAF units across the country.
- In addition, RCAF technicians made up four of the five members of Elevate Aviation’s all-women team.