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Hands-on Training

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Four Georgia Northwestern Technical College students left Rome recently for the experience of a lifetime, putting their training to work at a unique cross-country air race.

Daniel Sequens, Patrick Hayes, Stephanie Morris and Adam Roop are all GNTC students, studying aircraft maintenance technology. They attend classes at the Richard B. Russell Regional Airport in Rome. But while classes and books might offer a wealth of information, nothing can replace hands-on training.

In June, the four students jumped at the chance to travel to Prescott, Arizona for the start of the Air Race Classic where they could practice what they’ve been learning over the past couple years.

The Air Race Classic is an annual transcontinental air race for female pilots. Originally started in 1929. It was originally started as the Women’s Air Derby by pilots including Amelia Earhart back when female pilots weren’t allowed to compete against men.

This year’s race took 130 pilots from Prescott, Arizona on a 2,716-mile spring across the United States to Daytona Beach, Florida in three days.

But before the women could even begin the competition, their airplanes had to be inspected and had to meet certain safety standards and adhere to particular race regulations.

That’s where the four local students come in.

“During the Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance annual membership meeting and social at this year’s conference it was announced that they were looking for volunteers to assist with the pre-race inspections,” Morris said. “We expressed interest in going to help and over the course of the few months leading up to the race we made the necessary arrangements that made it possible for us to participate.”

In fact, they would help airplane mechanics inspect more than 50 airplanes before pilots tested themselves and their aircraft in the big race. The students stayed in the dorms at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and for 4 days their workplace was Prescott Municipal Airport.

The race started in Prescott, Arizona on June 21 and had checkpoints in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Midland, Texas; Waco, Texas; Warrensburg, Missouri; Champaign/Urbana, Illinois; Murfreesboro, Tennessee and Americus, Georgia before finally ending in Daytona Beach, Florida.

“It was a fantastic opportunity to get to go out to Prescott,” said Roop, a 25-year-old Ringgold native and UPS employee who’d like to use his training and education within that company. “I’d like to transfer to Lousville, Kentucky which is where our main air operation is and our hangar where all of the heavy maintenance is performed.”

Roop said he enjoyed the trip to Arizona and learned quite a bit in just a couple days by assisting in the aircraft inspections.

Daniel Sequens said the trip offered a wealth of opportunities to put into practice things he’s been taught.

“We learned what to look for and what type of conditions some of the aircraft were in,” he said. “But I also learned more about the type of people in this industry and how to work with them after I graduate.”

Sequens, a 36-year-old Kennesaw resident, said being in an environment where everyone was happy to share their passion for aviation was inspiring.

Included in their duties, the Rome students were responsible for doing walk-arounds of the airplanes to check for damage, corrosion or anything that looked out of the ordinary. They checked to see that the aircraft’s radio and lights were in good working condition.

“It helped us know what to look for when we’re doing our walk arounds for the interior and exterior of an airplane,” Roop said, “as well as our inspection of the engine looking for damaged oil and fuel lines, loose safety wires and leaking seals.”

Morris said she was inspired to meet so many talented female pilots and said she’s looking forward to being a part of the race again in the future.

“As a mechanic, it was a previlege to represent the Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance and learn about what all goes into making sure all the aircraft are safe and compliant before the race began,” she said. “I really enjoyed getting to meet some new mechanic friends from other parts of the country.”

Hayes, the oldest of the four students on the trip, said the experience was invaluable as he prepares to graduate and pursue a career in the aviation industry.

“I enjoyed seeing all the teams and planes,” Hayes said. “I liked seeing the older planes that had stories behind them or that have been restored. Everyone from race teams to mechanics were very nice and fostered a great environment for learning.”