Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Trio take different paths to CANSO project

Three men take different paths but end up at the same location, working on the same project.

Rolly Hammerstett, James Waugh and Stuart Madden are working together on the CANSO aircraft restoration project along with members of the Fairview Aircraft Restoration Society (FARS).

Hammerstett is the most senior with 61 years experience and an M2 license which allows him to work on large aircraft.

Waugh is a recent graduate of the SAIT Aircraft Maintenance Engineering program and Madden has just finished his first semester at College of Northern Lights in the Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Program there and is working for the summer with FARS on the CANSO project to get some experience. Waugh came just for the experience as he needs to build up a certain number of hours to get his M1 license for light aircraft maintenance.

How did they all end up here? Hammerstett grew up in Lac Du Bonnet, Manitoba, a community he described as the third largest air base in the country which serviced all the mining in northern Manitoba and Ontario. He said itt was nothing to see 20 planes in all at once, float planes that serviced the north. However, he went elsewhere, got into truck driving first, spent a year in Toronto and at age 21 returned home and got into aviation, working with Trans Air eight years, 12 years with Central Ontario eventually becoming chief engineer. He became familiar with the CANSOs when he supervised the complete conversion of CANSOs to two man operation (originally they needed a three-man crew to fly them including a flight engineer) and some to luxury passenger. The latter, he explained, were used to fly rich American fishermen to places like God’s Lake.

Hammerstett lives and works in Kenora, Ontario, but flies out periodically to oversee work on the CANSO and while here, lives in a travel trailer next to the shop.

Due to regulations, structural work on the CANSO must be certified by an Approved Maintenance Organization and Airspray in Red Deer is doing that, being familiar with Hammerstett and also having a senior staff member who is familiar with CANSO aircraft.

Waugh originally went to SAIT to study telecommunications. He finished the first semester of electronics and for the second semester chose avionics – the electronic devices used on aircraft. That was September 2001 and the events of Sept. 11 made him decide it was a bad time to go into the aircraft industry. However, he did work at an avionics shop overhauling the magic black boxes aircraft depend on until he was laid off. He ended up working for West Jet as a ramp agent, wearing a bright coloured vest and moving aircraft around, loading luggage into aircraft, but the toll it took on his body over seven years persuaded him to go back to SAIT, this time to study aircraft maintenance. He finshed the program and while he was looking for someone who would “let me touch an aircraft” came to Fairview to work on the CANSO with Hammerstett and FARS. He has found gainful employment though, and next month, thanks to a word from Hammerstett, Waugh will be working for a company in Kenora, Ontario earning hours towards his aircraft maintenance license.

Madden had an interesting path to where he is too. Originally, his parents strongly encouraged him to go to university, so he began studying computer engineering at University of Victoria in BC. However, he found the program was aimed at turning students into customer support, which wasn’t what he wanted to do, so he dropped out after first year and went into bartending.

Bartending turned out to be fairly lucrative and he used all his extra income to pay for job-shadowing experiences, everything from beer to garbage and quite a few other things as well. His mother told him one of his uncles was making over $80,000 per year working for the American military as a contractor fixing helicopters in Afghanistan. He looked into the program at Northern Lights College and decided it was where he wanted to go. As an apprentice, the pay rate he can expect is between $12 and $18 per hour but once he gets his license he could earn $20-$30 per hour with the upper end for aircraft maintenance being the sky-high $80,000 plus his uncle is earning.

In the meantime, the CANSO is, he says, “One of the coolest planes I’ve ever touched.”

Waugh also said it is a privilege to work on the CANSO, if only because they are so rare.

Neither of the young men hold a pilot’s license yet, but both hope to learn to fly in the future, once they have their aircraft maintenance license.

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