WSU Tech student Nolan Oglesby works as an intern in one of Wichita’s most well known aircraft hangars, learning how to trouble-shoot avionics components and systems.
It is his path through Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) to a career as an aircraft mechanic. He works at NIAR’s WERX Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul hangar, which once housed Boeing Air Force One modification facilities.
“I’m gaining a lot of actual, real-life experience on the aircraft,” Oglesby said. “I’ve been able to do a number of operations checks in the cockpit, going through a procedures checklist to check operations and help trouble-shoot at times.”
At the MRO hangar, NIAR WERX performs structure and subsystems design; stress, fatigue and damage tolerance; avionics, electrical and mechanical systems; flight sciences, external loads and structural dynamics; powerplant and airworthiness certification with a team of more than 300 experienced engineers and technicians.
Wichita State senior Preston Keasey, majoring in mechanical engineering, also works with the design group at NIAR’s WERX lab. He is learning 3D modeling, producing engineering drawings and writing test plans. His internship is preparing him for a career as a design engineer.
“My internship shaped what I envision myself doing,” he said. “The schooling gave you an idea. The internship tells you what an engineer is.”
In early September, NIAR received its first Boeing 777-300ER passenger aircraft. NIAR WERX, in conjunction with the Kansas Modification Center, will convert the passenger aircraft into a freighter to meet the growing needs of the e-commerce and express cargo market.
The 777 conversion program will provide unique applied learning opportunities for WSU engineering and WSU Tech students. NIAR’s ability to provide applied learning experience for students will expand with a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration for the purchase and installation of equipment for the institute’s Flight Test Research Center and Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) facility on South Oliver near Spirit AeroSystems.
WSU Tech and NIAR WERX are developing a unique opportunity for Aviation Maintenance Technician students at WSU Tech. Students will attend class two days a week and work in a mentored environment three days a week, honing the knowledge they learn in class on actual aircraft. This provides students access to the best of both the worlds; with the regulated learning of a FAA Part 147 environment blended with hands-on learning.
That grant will enable NIAR to purchase additional equipment, tools and technology that will benefit students. NIAR’s increased capability and capacity to add projects will allow it to hire more students and offer more diverse types of jobs.
“This is a rare opportunity for students to gain experience working on an industry program alongside and under the guidance of NIAR’s seasoned team of experts,” said Dave Jones, director of NIAR WERX. “Our engineers have the unique chance to pass their combined 7,500 years of experience in design, production and testing on to the next generation of aviation professionals.”
For students such as Oglesby, the experience working at the MRO facility gives him a strong start toward his career. He works trouble-shooting avionics, using a multimeter to check voltage and resistance continuity and learning aircraft maintenance manuals. Through his aviation maintenance studies at WSU Tech, he will meet the requirements to test for the Federal Aviation Administration’s A&P Mechanics certification.
“Some of the guys I’ve been working with on the avionics team, they have more than 30 years of experience,” he said. “I’m gaining a lot of confidence in that, knowing I’m being taught the right way. Having some experience, once I graduate with my (Airframe and Power Plant Mechanics certification), will definitely make me more employable, or likely to find work.”
Keasey knows that his two years of experience will help differentiate his resume from others.
“There’s a lot more to engineering than meets the eye, and a lot of students don’t get that until they get into the field,” he said. “Working with NIAR and WERX and the testing lab, all those things, definitely gives me a leg up. You talk to any aviation (company) around the country, and they can tell you who NIAR is.”