My Story… General and Powerplant
When I was 5 years old, a family member took me flying on a little Cessna airplane. To this day, I can still remember what it felt like when the aircraft lifted off the ground and soared the Florida skies. That would forever be a life-changing event for me because at that moment, I knew, at 5 years old, I was going to be a pilot!
You could not convince me otherwise.
We fast forward to my middle school years; I was offered to attend an aviation dual enrollment program in high school. I don’t think I can express my excitement to you! At first, I thought the school was for flying (remember, I wanted to be a pilot), but boy, was I mistaken! It turned out to be for aircraft maintenance. I had always been good with my hands and fixing things. My curiosity got the best of me, so I stuck with it.
During my freshman year, I was in an aerospace class. In this class, we were prepared for the Aviation Maintenance Program that began Sophomore year. I made friends with these boys who were Juniors in the classroom right across the hall (little did I know, I would become life long friends with them.) They were in Powerplant 1 and, I swear, they made it seem so cool! Well, honestly, to me, they were just cool. I decided that when I got to the point where I had to choose between Airframe or Powerplant first. I was going to be like them and select Powerplant first.
However, being in a school like this meant that I would not have all of my requirements to graduate like a regular high school student. It meant I would have had to take night school. My parents weren’t too happy with this idea, so long story short, they pulled me out of the aviation school. I was so upset! But my parents knew what was best for me. They understood that missing the program's freshman year would not affect my ability to acquire my certificates. So, with my counselor's help, they devised a plan so that I would take all the classes I would be missing my Sophomore through Senior year in my freshman year and graduate on time.
With all of my high school requisites out of the way, I went back to George T. Baker my Sophomore year and picked up the course that mattered to become an A&P, General. My parents had moved to a different part of Miami, which meant my homeschool had changed. This meant that instead of attending the aviation school in the afternoon, I was going in the morning. The school was Monday through Friday from 7:10 AM until 9:30 AM. Once class was over, we would hop on a bus and head to our home school and wait until 11 AM for our next class to begin. It took some time to get used to this schedule, but no one was complaining.
From the first General class, I was excited! I didn’t know crap about airplanes! But I was determined to learn. I was that annoying kid who would walk around and be like, “did you know”… Yeah, that was me, the beginning of General. Our General schooling worked different from most. After each class, we would rotate with the other high school teachers that taught General. At the end of the year, we were allowed to pick whether we wanted to start Airframe or Powerplant. Obviously, I picked Powerplant! I passed General without failing any classes, and it was on to the next course!
Junior year started, and it was on to Powerplant 1. Mrs. Nijborg was my teacher, and she was known for being a badass! She was tough, serious, and she knew her stuff! You don’t cross her! However, you learned a lot from her.
In her class, we learned the theory of both turbine and reciprocating engines, how to troubleshoot, inspect, operate, and repair engines and how to overhaul both reciprocating and turbine engines. Most of the kids in this class were the same kids I had in my General course. We were broken up into groups, and the kids in this group were the kids I worked with on every project until graduation day my senior year. As much as I adored these guys, I really did; it was such a learning curve for me. I had never worked with guys before, so I was soft… I was really soft. OMG! I messed up on everything, cried, and had moments when I slowed the crew down… one day I will do a Youtube video on what it was like being in these classes and all my infamous moments… I have quite a few… For example, my buddy Pedro use to pick on me so much! There was a time in reciprocating engine overhaul when we were supposed to measure the valves' clearance, and I couldn’t get it! He was so hard on me! Granted, I was holding up the group from moving forward, but seriously, he was so mean. LOL! Now, when I look back, it’s funny!
My favorite part of Powerplant 1 was turbine overhaul. I had and still find myself drawn to engines. I enjoyed learning about them and understanding how they worked. Plus, heading to the school's test cells to run engines was pretty cool too!
Like General, I passed all of my Powerplant 1 classes at the end of my Junior year! I am forever grateful for Mrs. Nijborg and everything she taught me both as a mechanic and how to be a woman in this field. She became like a second mom to me, and to this day, I still call her when I need advice or some extra encouragement.
Powerplant 2 and American Airlines
Senior year rolled along, and so did Powerplant 2. I was in Mr. Heron's class, and man! His class was tough! He tested you and made sure you knew your stuff. Nothing ever got past him! I think it took me a year after I graduated to calm down around him. He was a pretty incredible teacher! In his class, we learned about the different systems involved in the Powerplant. My favorite part of this class (just like every class) was the shop time, especially in engine electrical and starting systems. One of the projects was to take apart an alternator and put it back together. When you understand how it works, it always makes the class a lot more fun. My least favorite class was fuel and fuel metering. For some reason, it took me a while to grasp the concept of it.
During my senior year, American Airlines offered to donate an MD-80 to the school. For this project, they picked the top students in each class, and I was chosen! We headed to the American Airlines hangar, where we, the students, helped the AA employees remove the engines and the winglets from the aircraft. The idea was that they were going to use a crane to lift the airplane, place it in the middle of the road, and tow it into the school, so the aircraft needed to be light enough to hoist. It was a privilege to be apart of this team!
The day came for them to hoist and tow the aircraft to the school. I was working at a department store and had to beg them to allow me to leave early. They finally said yes, and my mom dropped me off at the school. They had picked me to ride brakes once they brought the aircraft over the wall, so I had a front-row seat to all of the action. The next morning one of the local news stations passed by the school and interviewed me about the aircraft and why it was so important that the school receive this plane. What an experience! Before I graduated, I think we installed and removed those engines on that aircraft a total of 5 times.
As my senior year came to a close, no surprise, I was doing well in school. I was an editor on the yearbook at my homeschool, involved with 5 clubs at school (including the National Honors Society at my Aviation School), and already guaranteed graduation. The only thing left to do was take my general and Powerplant tests.
Sophomore year there were 4 classes of 30 students. By my Junior year and Powerplant 1, those 4 classes were split into 2 groups (Airframe 1 and Powerplant 1), with only 30 kids in each class. Between the transition from Sophomore to Junior year, 30 kids had dropped out. By my Senior year and Powerplant 2, we were only 20 kids. This meant 10 kids dropped out from Junior to Senior year. Of the 20 kids in my class, only 5 of us had passed all of our General and Powerplant classes to qualify for our testing.
The downfall in all of this meant I had to choose which one was more important to me; either taking and passing my finals at my home school or taking my general and Powerplant written tests. Well, the decision wasn’t difficult. I already knew I would pass at my home school, even if I failed my finals, so I stayed and studied for my General and Powerplant tests.
I am a HORRIBLE tester!!!
It took me a full week of doing nothing but studying for my General written test and receive a passing score. Once I finally took the General written test and passed, it was on to the General test's oral portion.*** This involved another week of studying for the oral part, then testing for it and hopefully passing. So when I say NOTHING BUT STUDYING, I honestly mean NOTHING BUT STUDYING. I would stay at my aviation school in the library every day as long as possible until my mother would get out of work and pick me up. I was dedicated to this, and nothing was going to stop me from achieving this goal!
Next was my Powerplant testing.
I did exactly what I did for my General tests for my Powerplant test. I studied my ass off! I studied none stop every day with the Prepware books and computer program. I was studying section by section until I was able to get a passing score on my practice test. It took so much of me to study and pass. There were a few breakdowns, but I finally did it! The last day of my senior year, I took my test and passed my Powerplant written. Around this time of the year, other students had been finishing their testing, so I had to put myself on a waiting list to test. The only available time they had was in July, so I had to wait a full month before taking my oral test.*** When I finally took my oral examination, I passed! I was officially a certified Powerplant mechanic!
Although I loved going to George T. Baker Aviation School in high school for my Powerplant certificate, it wasn’t an easy decision. I gave up the opportunity of having a regular high school life, and in turn, I missed out on a lot of those high school moments, like prom, to pursue this career. I also had to learn how to manage being a female in a male-dominated industry and how I had to carry myself. It broke me a lot, but I never gave up!
You know, I have to thank my mom for always believing in me and my goal of being an aircraft mechanic. She drove me to school every morning and allowed me to participate in so much. The days I needed to stay late, she let me and always figured out a way to make it all work. Shout to my mom! She is pretty cool (don’t tell her a said that! LOL!).
Remember, this is part of my story. Everyone’s is different.
If you are interested in becoming an A&P, head over to www.AMTJOBOPENINGS.com for blogs about becoming an AMT in the United States and a list of the FAA-approved part 147 schools in the United States.
***For those wondering, my school had an agreement with the FAA at the time that the student's practical tests were accomplished during the student's classes. So I did not have to take a practical for my classes. A couple of months after I had tested, the FAA changed their rules, and now students have to take all 3 tests after their schooling.