Lauren Clarke is a May 2011 and May 2013 graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. She completed her Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Science and an Associate of Science in Aviation Maintenance Science with Airframe and PowerPlant certifications at the Daytona Beach campus. She is currently a Pilot/Mechanic for Airtec, an aviation and technology integration company.
Tell us about your current employer. What is unique about Airtec?
As a recent Embry-Riddle graduate, I am fortunate to have landed a great job at a company called Airtec, an aviation and technology integration company in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. I graduated from ERAU in May 2013 with a Bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Science and an Associate’s in Aviation Maintenance Science to include my flight ratings up to Multi-commercial and my Airframe and Powerplant certificates. The summer after graduation, I had an internship at Cape Air in Hyannis, Massachusetts, as a mechanic, and before I had even finished there, I had applied and been offered a job here at Airtec. Upon completing my internship, I moved to Southern Maryland and became Airtec’s newest employee.
Unique is an excellent way to describe Airtec. From the aircraft we operate to the missions we fly, everything is unique. We fly support missions for organizations like the Atlantic Test Ranges, NASA Wallops Flight Facility, the Surface/Aviation Interoperability Laboratory (SAIL) and the Atlantic Targets and Marine Operations (ATMO) Division. These missions can vary from objectives like range safety and maritime radar surveillance to airborne telemetry. Just this morning I flew a mission for Dahlgren Naval Surface Warfare Center to assist in data collection to establish the floor of their restricted airspaces. These are just some of the countless ways that our clients take advantage of our fleet and equipment.
The fleet here at St. Mary’s Airport consists of three King Air twin turboprop aircraft, including A100, 200T and B200C models, a Beechcraft Baron, Cirrus SR22 and a few other exciting aircraft. These aircraft do not have elaborately decorated cabins with plush leather seats and a mini bar but instead are stripped out and equipped with racks of telemetry and radar equipment. Some of our technology capabilities include APS 143 Radar, 360 degree belly mounts, satellite data link systems, L/S band auto-tracking telemetry systems and real-time communications relay. We have GPS moving maps, VOR, ILS, and ADF navigation equipment in most of our aircraft. We also have TACAN and aircraft carrier landing and approach systems, which are very unusual for a civilian organization. These aircraft are specially modified with 2.5 KVA, 3-phase, 400 hertz, 115 VAC inverters to power the radar and other project equipment.
Airtec hires and trains the crews that operate these aircraft. We have all-inclusive flight crews for our missions. That is to say that we hire and train our own pilots, mechanics, radar operators and project engineers. Here at St. Mary’s, we have 31 employees, plus twenty more throughout our projects around the world. Our pilots are trained on the entire fleet and are capable of transferring from one aircraft to another at a moment’s notice. With the wide variety of missions we perform, it is common, if not inevitable, that we rarely fly the same aircraft twice in a row. The mechanics are also capable of maintaining the entire fleet. This entails anything from repairing air conditioners (a LOT), to changing landing gear, to designing and installing the racks of equipment in the back, to installing the multitude of antennas that our aircraft necessitate.
Unlike most civilian operations, Airtec is a company that would be difficult for a prospective employee to prepare for. Those that come from prior military service have an easy time transitioning into the mission-oriented mindset that is required but have a more difficult time switching from the jets they are used to into turboprops and recip aircraft. On the other hand, employees with prior airline experience have less difficulty with the type of aircraft we fly but more trouble with the missions and the language used by our mostly military clients. As a recent Embry-Riddle graduate without military or airline experience, one of my challenges as a pilot is to transition into both new aircraft and military missions. As a mechanic, I also face a variety of challenges at Airtec. Mechanics with a history in the airlines usually haven’t worked on every part of an aircraft from tip to tail like we do here, and general aviation mechanics rarely have an opportunity to work with the kind of technology that we have on our planes. Military mechanics, as well, are trained in occupational specialties and would not be used to the diversity of maintenance functions we perform here.
Airtec is an exciting place to work and offers great variety for an employee like me with both maintenance and flight skills. No two weeks are exactly the same, and I continually look forward to going to work each day. In my first job out of college, I am gaining experience in ways I could never have imagined and anticipate many years of interesting assignments.
As an alumna, what career advice do you have for upcoming graduates?
Network! I only heard about this company by reaching out to the aviation community and making contact with the right person. Thanks to him, I got an introduction to the President of Airtec, Steve Bildman, also a graduate of Embry-Riddle. Coming in with a recommendation from a well-respected member of the Southern Maryland aviation industry gave me a great advantage from the start. After that it was a matter of being the right person with the right qualifications and the right attitude. At the time of my visit, Airtec was not actively seeking applicants, but as my boss likes to call it, I was a “triple-threat” by not only having my mechanic certificates and pilot certificates, but also being a graduate of the same school as both the President and the Chief Pilot. These three attributes, along with a recommendation from a dependable source, encouraged my employers to create a position for me as a full-time pilot/mechanic, a job that they had never tried before.
Had I been discouraged by the fact that this company was not actively looking for new employees or that my qualifications didn’t match those that the website dictated, I would never have gone out for this job. I am so glad that I did, and I encourage everyone at Riddle to do the same. Apply for everything and anything no matter what the “required qualifications”. You never know who might read your application and think you could be the perfect candidate for any number of reasons. Take every sit-down interview you can get and don’t sell yourself short. You are coming out of the best aviation program in the country, and people in the industry know it.
I also highly encourage every student at Riddle to take advantage of all the training you can manage while you’re in school. And I don’t just mean in the flight department. Expand your horizons and learn as much about the entire industry as you can. If I had not stayed on after my Aeronautical Science degree to get my Maintenance degree as well, I would not have been considered for a position at this company. Even if you don’t do maintenance as a career, the understanding of your aircraft that the courses provide can give a pilot candidate a huge leg up in the industry to have that knowledge base. Even in flight, get as much training as you can. At Riddle I completed the Upset Recovery Training, gaining skills that made me feel like a more proficient and confident pilot. Finally, a note to the full-timers working in the flight line: Don’t forget that you get free tuition as a full-time employee. Don’t let that opportunity go to waste! Take advantage!
What is the biggest highlight of your career so far?
I cannot possibly choose one thing to be the highlight of my career any more. Every day is a new and exciting adventure in this company. Being a new pilot with few flying hours and little experience, everything I do here is brand new to me. The transition into King Airs from Cessnas has been a big leap and is a change that I am still getting used to and will probably continue to get used to for a long time. They are great airplanes to fly, and I can’t see myself tiring of them any time soon. Almost weekly I set new personal records. I set new highest altitudes and lowest altitudes, fastest speeds and longest flights. I’ve had the opportunity to witness some amazing things in the short time that I have worked here. I’ve seen NASA rocket launches from 13,000 feet. I’ve seen an aerial refueling of an F-35 from a C-130 and seen an X-47 UAV flying with its chase F-18. Already I’ve seen and done more than I ever could have imagined, and there is only more to come!
What are your plans for the future?
To be completely honest, the only future I can see right now is what’s in store for me at Airtec. I am thoroughly enjoying my work here, and I see a lot of potential for personal growth within this company. Right now I am SIC in all of our aircraft, so my most immediate goal is to upgrade to PIC in the Baron. Eventually I’d like to do the same in the King Airs, but that will take a while longer. I have already learned an immense amount about these aircraft from a mechanical standpoint, and I am excited to continue to do so. I think I can grow to be an outstanding mechanic if I put effort into absorbing as much knowledge as I can while I’m here. I am also eager to learn as much as I can about the equipment we have installed on our aircraft. Once I master the flight and maintenance aspects of this job, I’d like to explore the radar operator opportunities the company offers. It is very unusual for a civilian like me to have the opportunity to work around this kind of technology, much less to get to operate it. So for now my plans for the future are to take full advantage of all the opportunities this company can supply.