Celebrating Aviation Maintenance Technician Day

Today, we’re celebrating Aviation Maintenance Technician (AMT) Day with a behind-the-scenes interview with Katie Yudkin, a student from Richmond, Virginia, that relocated to the Shenandoah Valley to attend the Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) Aviation Maintenance Technician Program! Katie will soon join the ranks of the less than 3% of women who are Aviation Maintenance Technicians when she graduates in August. Interestingly, becoming an AMT wasn’t on her radar, but a connection to aviation spans generations of her family history and ultimately inspired her to pursue the career path. Her hard work is paying off, too. In a remarkable achievement, Katie was awarded the very first Community College Aviation Maintenance Scholarship from the Virginia Space Grant Consortium (VSGC) in April. This prestigious scholarship is a recognition of her talent, dedication, and potential in the field.

Keep reading to learn more about Katie’s fascinating family history in aviation, what it’s like to train to be an AMT, and her advice for anyone interested in becoming an AMT!

Q: How long have you been enrolled in the BRCC Aviation Maintenance Technology program, and what inspired you to pursue a career as an aviation maintenance technician?

A: I have been enrolled in the AMT program since August 2023 and will graduate this coming August.

Aviation maintenance was not a career field that was on my radar until about two years ago. It never dawned on me that I could be a mechanic who worked on airplanes. When any of us book a trip and get on a plane, we think about the pilot. We think about the flight attendants who greet us as we board. We might even think about the baggage handlers responsible for ensuring our luggage arrives at our final destination, but who really thinks about the mechanics working behind the scenes making sure the aircraft is safe for flight?  I certainly never did, but once I realized I had overlooked such a critical and interesting role, the logical next step was to investigate how to become an Airframe and Powerplant mechanic.

Cue the beginning of my fascination with aircraft maintenance. I was talking with my mom one day about how her parents had their private pilot’s licenses.  My mom then shared with me a document from 1944 listing my grandfather’s WWII occupational specialties:  Airplane and Engine Mechanic. We spent the next few hours talking about the substantial role that aviation has played in my family history.

My great grandfather, Charles W. Carneal, flew with WWI ace Eddie Rickenbacker before becoming one of the First Captains with Eastern Airlines. He logged 38,000 hours of flying time with Eastern and, after retirement, was inducted into the Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame in Richmond, Virginia. Owen Carneal was my great uncle and had an incredibly fascinating career. He was an aeronautical engineer and on the development team for the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, the first “stealth fighter”. It seemed I was destined to chase a career in aviation, and this was all the validation that I needed. This was the groundwork that would ultimately lead to my decision to pursue a career as an AMT.

Q: What specific skills do you believe are essential for success in aviation maintenance, and how have you developed them during your college journey?

A: As a soon to be certificated mechanic, I can understand the importance of feeling comfortable with tools. The AMT program at BRCC has allowed me to become more confident than ever while using my tools, and I look forward to opening my toolbox every day. I also believe it is crucial to have strong attention to detail and the ability to problem solve. The hours spent reading through maintenance manuals and working through complex assignments in the lab have certainly helped strengthen my skills overall and encouraged me to think differently about any problems that I face.

Katie Yudkin works on an aircraft.

Q: Could you walk us through a typical week as a student in the BRCC AMT program?

A: I am enrolled in the AMT program full-time. Classes take place from 7:30 a.m. to 3:50 p.m., Monday through Friday. Most classes have both a lecture and lab component broken up into 2-hour blocks before and after lunch. Quizzes are due in lecture each week, and lab assignments usually require practical applications of skills and knowledge. Often, we are tasked with removing an airframe or engine part from an aircraft or trainer. Then, we inspect, clean, and replace the part in reference to the appropriate manuals. I love hands-on learning and working with tools, so I really enjoy lab the most. And as the weather gets warmer and the sun is shining, it’s a plus working out in the hangar with the door wide open.

Q:  In what ways do you think the BRCC AMT program adequately prepares you for the demands of the aviation industry?

A: Coming up in just a few months I will be eligible to take the FAA written, oral, and practical exams. Upon passing I will be awarded my A&P license. The BRCC AMT program is designed to help me pass these rigorous tests. Before completion of each AMT class, I am required to also pass a written, oral, and practical test. I have full confidence that the redundancy of this program protocol will adequately prepare me for the FAA licensing exams.

Q: As a female student in a traditionally male-dominated industry, have you faced any unique obstacles or experiences? How do you navigate them?

A: I love to play golf and have spent many years sailing competitively for a yacht racing team. Both hobbies are male-dominated, so to be honest, this aspect of aviation maintenance has not really phased me. In the nine months I have been in this program, I can truthfully say that I have never felt like I’ve been talked to or treated differently than any other student in the room.

Q: What advice would you give to other females considering a career as an aviation maintenance technician?

 A: Beyond doing your own research, my advice would be to talk to everyone you possibly can about your plans. You might be surprised what opportunities might arise. As an example, I had the chance to meet and shadow the aircraft maintenance manager at the Virginia Department of Aviation last summer. The connection was made through a friend of my father, who I met at a party and recently had just so happened to do some work for them. These kinds of experiences can help tremendously with figuring out whether aviation maintenance would be a good fit.

Also, there is an enormous demand for women in aviation. Less than 3% of aviation technicians are women. Pretty crazy, right?! If the passion is there and you feel drawn to this career path like I do, just go for it. There is no better time than right now!

Q: Looking ahead, what are your next steps after completing the BRCC AMT program?

A: I am still weighing my options, but I am currently very interested in working for a regional or major airline and will start applying to jobs this summer. I remain open minded due to the overwhelming opportunities available to AMTs.  As a brand-new technician, I want to learn as much as I can from others and continue to grow into the best mechanic that I can be.

Q:  If you were to envision your ideal career scenario, working for a specific company and specializing in a particular type of aircraft, what would that look like?

A: At this early stage in my aviation maintenance journey, I am unsure what an ideal career scenario would look like for me. I learn about new opportunities almost every day and am fascinated by the overwhelming demand for AMTs. However, I think having the chance to work as a flight mechanic at some point in my career would be an amazing experience and a great way to travel the world.

Thank you to Katie for giving us her first-hand perspective on becoming an Aviation Maintenance Technician! To everyone working in this important field, we appreciate and celebrate you today and always. We know you are an essential part of what makes safe and reliable travel possible!