The aerospace and aviation industry is a vast and diverse global industry serviced by an endless list of OEMs, MROs, specialty shops, and FBOs. If you are considering a career in aviation maintenance or changing jobs within the industry, there are two factors that you may want to consider.
Do you want to work for a company that is operationally focused like an airline and OEM where change is usually brought about by alterations in route structure or the introduction of a new airplane or engine? Or, would you like to work for a company that is contract or project-focused and the work is usually very diverse and nonroutine. Many career coaches recommend that you follow your passion and do work that you like and that suits your personality. If you like variety, change, and interesting projects, I suggest you consider L-3 Communications.
L-3 is a huge Fortune 500 aviation company with diverse business divisions and service locations around the world. In 2009 it established the Platform Integration Division at the old James Connally Air Force Base in Waco, TX. The former base is now a modern industrial airpark operated by Texas State Technical College (TSTC). Platform Integration (PI) is a certified repair station and holds the FAA’s Organization Designation Authorization, the most current airworthiness certification authority.
Its MRO operations are supported by about 2,000 engineers; aircraft structure specialists, tool and die makers, systems mechanics, riggers, electricians, avionics technicians, cabinet makers, and interior craftsmen. If you like variety then L-3 PI is for you. The industry buzz is that L-3 PI Division is a good group to work for and has completed many interesting projects. I asked Lance Martin, L-3’s media contact, if he could give us a sampling of their projects. He said, “Some we can talk about in more detail than others” due to the sensitivity of the technologies or privacy guarantees to high profile customers.
One of the high-tech projects was the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy or SOFIA project. This was about a 10-year project and one that took hundreds of engineers and maintenance staff to complete. According to NASA, SOFIA is “a world-class airborne observatory that will complement the Hubble, Spitzer, Herschel, and James Webb space telescopes and major Earth-based telescopes.”
The engine of the SOFIA observatory is a German-built 100-inch (2.5 meter) diameter far-infrared telescope weighing 20 tons that is mounted in the rear fuselage of a Boeing 747SP aircraft. PI had the responsibility for engineering, airframe modification, telescope mounting, and supporting systems installation and integration. It moved the pressure bulkhead forward, rerouted the flight control cables down the side of the fuselage, and fortified the airframe structure to accommodate the telescope compartment door that is about “16 feet wide and weighs about 3,500 pounds.”
It added new mechanical systems to operate the door, built a wind foil on the outside of the fuselage to spoil the air when the massive door was open, and installed a liquid nitrogen system so that the compartment and telescope could be cooled to match the outside air temperature when the door was opened. PI used a dismantled section from another 747SP as a full-size mock-up to ensure that concepts and dimensions were accurate before applying them on the actual aircraft.
Navy P-3 SMIP contract
Platform Integration also competes for modification and maintenance contracts that arise from the intelligence and defense sectors. Martin says that in June 2011, L-3 PI was awarded the contract “to perform aircraft sustainment for the U.S. Navy’s fleet of P-3, EP-3, and NP-3 aircraft. The sustainment, modification, and installation program (SMIP) provides for an intensive depot-level process for P-3 airframe and component inspection and deficiency identification. The program corrects deficiencies to ensure safe and reliable operation, as well as to enhance the aircraft service life.”