My Passion for Aviation
How old were you when you found out what you wanted to be as an adult? Growing up by O’Hare International Airport, there was never a day I could remember when a massive jet wasn’t taking off. I remember being in the car with my father driving with the windows down in our 1998 green Ford Explorer. We were driving by the fence separating the runway and the street. A large, yellow Airbus A320 was idling on the runway getting ready to take off with about a dozen aircraft waiting behind it. I could smell the hot exhaust as both engines were running getting ready to shoot the aircraft into the cloudy, blue sky. As I was wondering what its destination could be, I knew from a young age that aviation would be my passion, and I would pursue it as my career.
I was six years old when my dad took my older brother, Alex, and I to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. I remember pulling up to the parking lot and seeing the enormous hangars with the Arnold wings painted in the front. I ran inside and was greeted by an arsenal of different legacy aircraft. I remember one event in particular where my older brother wanted to ride inside the aircraft simulator. He asked me to come inside with him because he didn’t want to go alone. “Come on dude! Come with me!” Alex begged. I was a little afraid to go in with him because the simulator would aggressively move up, down, left, and right.
Without a shred of confidence, I muttered, “Fine, but you have to sit next to me.” So, we both lined up to go in. As we walked into the simulator, I remember seeing the big colorful screens simulating a cockpit facing a runway on a sunny day. We both sat down and strapped ourselves onto the chairs getting ready for takeoff. As the aircraft was lifting off, the simulator began moving backward, and I grabbed onto Alex's arm because I was afraid I would get hurt. The simulator came to a stop, and we both walked out shaking. We both looked at each other, and the only thing that came to mind was how amazing it would be to fly in a real airplane.
Fig. 1: B-29 inside the hangar at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
I was finally given an opportunity to ride in my first airplane when I was 11 years old. My father decided to take Alex and I to Mexico, so we could visit my grandparents. We boarded the plane, and I sat down as my father was putting up our bags in the overhead compartment. I looked out the little square window and saw all the mechanics in their yellow safety vests doing their maintenance and inspections. As the tug began to push the aircraft back, I started having flashbacks of when I was in the simulator with Alex. The pilot made it to the runway, and I could feel the power of the engines reverberating throughout the aircraft as he threw the throttle into high power. The aircraft took off, and I could feel the G forces as we were accelerating through the air. I turned to my brother and nervously asked, “Did you feel that?”
“Heck yeah, I did! It felt like I was weightless!” Alex exclaimed. Simultaneously, we both looked out the window to take one last glance at the Chicago skyline. I knew at that moment that I wanted to become an aircraft mechanic.
Fig. 2: Bird’s-eye view of O’Hare International Airport.
I was 18 years old when I joined the military to get my foot in the door of aviation. I had gone through a year of training just so I could have enough experience to work on an AV8B Harrier. The Harrier is a gray, single-engine aircraft with four rotating nozzles instead of a single afterburner like most fighter aircraft. In 2019, my unit, VMA-311 “The Tomcats,” went on deployment for 7 months in Bahrain where I learned a majority of my troubleshooting experience. Every day we would work long hours in the hot and humid Bahraini Island. I was put on a job with one of my workers in the hangar where we would have to do wire repair in the engine bay. The hundred-degree sunlight was hitting the exact spot we would be working in over the aircraft. I looked at Cedillo, my worker, and I said, “Damn, It looks like we’re gonna have to suffer today.”
Cedillo picked up our toolbox and his defeated look said it all: “Wasn’t today supposed to be an easy day?”
I chuckled a bit and said, “Is any day here ever an easy day?” This conversation would easily summarize my military aviation experience. Every day a loud, whining Harrier would be low powering in the hot sun with multiple Marines running around in green coveralls. Despite all this chaos, my passion for aviation grew further.
Fig. 4: My coworkers and I performing maintenance on the wing tip of the AV8B Harrier.
Towards the end of my contract, I decided to attend Lewis University to further my career in aviation by earning my airframe and powerplant license. I picked Lewis because it was well known for its aviation program and for being veteran friendly. I pulled up some pictures on the internet of the campus, hangar, and aircraft. I was impressed with how well-maintained everything looked from the buildings to the aircraft. I showed the pictures to my friend Rodriguez who looked at me with wide-open eyes, “No way man; is this where you’re thinking of going after you’re done?”
“Of course! It’s close to home, and they’ll help me get my license to work on aircraft after I graduate,” I replied. My benefits would allow me to attend any school for 4 years, so I figured the best course of action for me would be to get my bachelor’s degree in Aviation and Aerospace Technology. A few weeks after applying, I had gotten my letter of acceptance, which paved the way for where I am now. I was extremely excited and ready to move on to the next chapter of my life.
Looking back at all my experiences, I was right to believe that aviation would be my passion and that I would pursue it as my career. Visiting the museum and riding my first airplane were both good indications that showed me I was making the right choice. Joining the military and attending Lewis were two experiences that supported those indications and thoughts. So how old were you when you realized what you wanted to be as an adult? I knew for as long as I could remember that I wanted to become an aircraft mechanic. Now I’m two years into getting my bachelor’s degree and half a semester away from having my airframe and powerplant license.