Dremond Stidwell is a full-time student in Everett Community College’s Aviation Maintenance Technician School. Because of the skills he’s learning, the father of two also has a full-time job with Aviation Technical Services in Everett.
On Wednesday, he had a task some might see as tougher than juggling college, work and family. He spoke before a crowd of the EvCC program’s leaders and former leaders. Some recalled the school’s earliest days.
“These gentlemen built a great program,” said Stidwell, 44, who moved from Atlanta to learn aircraft maintenance in Everett. “I’ve only been here a year, but already have the opportunity to work at ATS. I’m proud to say I’m part of this program.”
The occasion was a reception celebrating the 50th anniversary of the EvCC Aviation Maintenance Technician School. Started in 1967 in a former military commissary at Paine Field, the program was licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration in 1968. Since 1985, it has been in a building near the county airport’s main terminal.
“We couldn’t be doing what we do today without those foundations,” said Rob Prosch, EvCC’s associate dean of aviation. Speaking to those gathered in Paine Field’s Building C-80, he praised the program’s early faculty, and looked to the future of the school which now has about 140 students.
“We’ve just implemented advanced avionics,” Prosch said. Students of advanced avionics, an emerging field, learn to troubleshoot, repair and maintain electronic systems of aircraft — from reading lights to autopilot systems. Everett’s avionics program is the first of its kind in the state. A new degree program, a bachelor of applied science in aviation technology, also is being considered, Prosch said.
The eight-quarter aviation maintenance technician program includes 2,040 hours of instruction, with work done on different types of planes and helicopters. Students earn a certificate or associate’s degree, and most graduates complete FAA exams to get certificates with airframe and power-plant ratings.
Over its half-century, the school has trained hundreds of skilled technicians for well-paying jobs. Speakers at the event represented the program’s history.
Rick Lengyel, who now lives in Florida, headed the school from 1972 to 1985. He later became EvCC’s director of applied technology, worked for the Boeing Co. and before retirement was involved in work related to the space shuttle. He recalled when the school was near Paine Field’s south entrance. It relocated when a new runway came along. “It was September ‘85 when we moved into this facility,” he said.
There were tough times. In 1971, after a federal study, the aviation maintenance program was among several hundred closed by the FAA, Lengyel said. Curriculum was rewritten and new equipment acquired before the school reopened in 1972, he said.
Two instructors from back then, Les Henderson and Rembert Fessenden, have died, but Lengyel pointed to Vi Stockman in the audience. Now living in Lynden, she was then the program’s administrative assistant. She remembers working on the new curriculum — using a typewriter.
Lengyel and John Olson, EvCC’s vice president of college advancement, talked about aircraft used in training, many of which were donated. “They tear them apart, put them back together and test them,” said Olson, adding that engines are fired up outside.
The late U.S. Sen. Henry M. Jackson, of Everett, helped the program get a Cessna 310 from the U.S. Forest Service, Lengyel said. And at one time, a donated British de Havilland Comet at the school was one of just a few remaining planes of its kind.
Bill Loomis, a military veteran who also worked at Boeing, taught many years in the program, beginning in 1981. Retired, he is still involved as an examiner. The school’s location set it apart. “Very few programs are at an airport like Paine Field,” he said. “And it’s always been about the people.”
Support has come from industry and government. Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, a Republican, helped the program get a Bell UH-1 “Huey” helicopter from the Army, Loomis said.
Mike Hagler, a Delta Air Lines internship and technical operations duty manager, is involved in an internship program at South Seattle College. He said Delta is establishing partnerships with aviation maintenance schools around the country.
“We need to start nurturing students,” Hagler said. Over the next decade, he said, tens of thousands of aircraft maintenance workers will retire. “Our mechanics earn $100,000 a year.”
Bob Drewel, former Snohomish County executive, was EvCC president during some of the aviation maintenance school’s early years. Now senior advisor to Paul Pitre, chancellor of Washington State University in Everett, Drewel also spoke Wednesday.
“Fifty years from now, who knows how planes will be changing? Maybe they’ll have no one in the cockpit,” Drewel said. “But you know who’ll maintain those planes — graduates of this program.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@herald net.com.
Learn about Everett Community College’s Aviation Maintenance Technician School and advanced avionics programs at: www.EverettCC.edu/Aviation