Hagerstown Branch Campus, MD
Program: Aviation Maintenance Technology (AMT)
Employment: Dynamic Aviation, Avionics Technician
After graduating from a four-year college with a degree in electrical engineering, Russell Wheatley started working in the field. Despite having great interest in the electrical work he was doing, it wasn’t exactly what he expected. “I was making wiring schematics, which was a lot of computer work and not hands-on. A lot of sitting still all day,” says Wheatley.
After trying a few different jobs in the field, Wheatley decided to pursue his diploma in Aviation Maintenance and earn his A&P Certification. “I’d always been interested in planes, but it was just a passing interest. Someone said that [the program] would be a good fit for me. I came to an open house, and they were right.” With his background in electrical engineering, Russell found that he was able to use that knowledge in his classes at PIA.
Being able to assist other students who needed help eventually led him to be awarded the 2015 Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC) Student of the Year Award. The honor recognizes one student in the nation per year. Russell attributes his nomination to his willingness to learn and help others. “Stepping up in class brought that forward,” said Wheatley.
His success in the classroom allowed him to earn his A&P, after which he began his career at Dynamic Aviation. The location and people led him to taking the position, and ultimately got him the hands-on career he had wanted. “At Dynamic, I am doing something different and hands-on every day. We work with a lot of old planes, mostly King Air 90s and 200s. There is a lot of troubleshooting. You don’t always have pristine planes, and you have to work with what you’ve got.”
Currently, Wheatley and his team are working on a series of upgrades to the planes. “This year we are doing a lot of installs. The biggest thing coming now is ADS-B systems (Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast). We’re putting it into all of our planes. Being able to install a system, turn it on, and have it all work is great.”
While installs and upgrades to planes are major undertaking at his job, Wheatley understands the value of the minute details that he learned at PIA. “Learning to do paperwork correctly is a big thing. I write a ton of 337’s (forms for major repairs and alterations to an airframe, powerplant, propeller, or appliance). This year I’ve signed ten or more; also being able to go through the AC 43.13 (a general practices manual) [to do maintenance]. Old army birds don’t have the greatest manuals.” Earning his A&P, however, has its advantages. “Get the A&P, because there are more opportunities when you have one than when you don’t. In the avionics shop I am one of four, but I’m the only one with an A&P. It’s definitely been a factor.”