On May 24, Aviation Maintenance Technician Day is set aside each year to honor those who keep airplanes in the air and the skies safe, as well as Charles E. Taylor, builder of the engine for the Wright Flyer, sometimes referred to as the 1903 Flyer.

Wilbur and Orville Wright made their first flight in a heavier-than-air machine on Dec. 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Taylor worked for the Wright brothers in their bicycle shop. When the engine built by Ford Motor Co. proved to be too heavy, Taylor designed and built a smaller one, while the brothers worked on building the airframe.

A $1,000 scholarship in Taylor’s name is awarded annually to 20 individuals interested in a career in aviation maintenance.

Today’s aircraft and increased maintenance needs demand a much higher level of knowledge than Taylor had to have to build that first engine.

Programs, such as those offered at Spartan College of Aeronautics in Tulsa, take a student about 17 months to complete.

There are approximately 40 hangers at the Tahlequah Municipal Airport, used by private individuals. The airport has only one part-time aviation technician. Those needing repairs and maintenance on their aircraft must go to other airports, such as Muskogee-Davis Regional Airport.

“Everybody is short-handed now,” said Brian Lambert, manager of the city’s airport. “We have a facility here that we could put an [independent contractor], and [the city] could help them with a hanger lease and [the technician could have] a place to work out of.”

Daron Calico, a first officer for FlyExclusive, a private jet charter company, pilots a Citation XL Jet.

“My life literally depends on [these technicians]. There are no repeats in aviation. It has to be done right the first time,” said Calico.

A retired colonel who flew fighter jets during the Vietnam War, Dave Bowman is a docent at the Arkansas Air and Military Museum in Fayetteville, Arkansas, housed at Drake Field Airport. Bowman gives tours of the vintage airplanes and military equipment in the museum.

“A lot of technicians come from the military when their stint is over, and with the decrease in enlisted personnel, that number has decreased, causing a shortage in the field of airplane maintenance,” said Bowman.

Scott Davis has been an aviation maintenance technician for over 20 years. He is the director of maintenance for Jett Aircraft. When Davis went to school for his craft, he had to complete a course of 1,960 hours. The license acquired by an individual who has completed this training is an Airframe and Powerplant License. Davis talks to groups of school kids who tour the aircraft museum, about a career in aviation maintenance.

“I tell them, you strive for the 100%, because doing what we do, I don’t want somebody that barely passed, maybe even hits 90%, and leaves out some parts, working on a plane I’m flying in,” said Davis.

Many aviation technicians work for big companies, such as Walmart and Tyson, who hire their own technicians to maintain their fleets of corporate jets. Pay in the field starts at around $25 an hour, according to Davis, and goes up from there, depending on the number of years of experience and advanced certifications.

Tahlequah High School is expected to incorporate an aviation curriculum for the fall 2023 semester. This is in response to a recent surge of other Oklahoma schools adding aviation classes.

“If you love aviation, you love what I do. If it is just a job you probably wouldn’t like it as much,” said Davis. “One of the things that I consider when I work on a plane – I’ll ask myself after I’ve finished the job – is do I have the confidence to put my family in this plane?”

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