Aerospace Engineering Officer
CAPTAIN ANDRIY SZKWAREK: It takes leadership on the ground to make our Canadian Air Force a leader in the air -- that's how we make a difference every day.
CAPTAIN TARA WILLlS: We're Aerospace Engineering Officers - or AERE Officers for short - leading the teams of technicians and experts who keep our aircraft safe, in tune, and on mission.
SZKWAREK: l'm Captain Andriy Szkwarek from Winnipeg, Manitoba - l'm an Aerospace Engineering Officer, currently posted to 17 Wing in my hometown.
WILLlS: and l'm Captain Tara Willis from Hull, Quebec - l'm an Aerospace Engineering Officer, currently posted to Ottawa.
SZKWAREK: ln the Canadian Forces, every officer understands the importance of teamwork, efficiency, and devotion to duty. Whether it's on a Wing in Canada, or on the battlefield in a theatre of operations, as an officer, you're putting your skiIls, and the trust of your team, on the line every day.
WILLlS: We command the technicians who perform preventive and mission- critical maintenance on our planes and helicopters. And we also are deeply involved in designing, configuring and testing new aircraft and air weapons systems.
WILLlS: Ifs a really exciting time to be an AERE Officer - the Canadian Forces are currently undergoing the most significant acquisition of new airframes since World War II.
WILLlS: Aerospace Engineering Officers lead every phase of the aircraft life cycle.
WILLlS: And we do that in a number of ways: you can do that in my type of job, where you make sure that you buy the right equipment.
WILLlS: As a project manager on the Cyclone helicopter, 1work with industry and government officials to make sure that the aircraft and weapons systems we acquire will keep our Air Force one of the most technologically advanced in the world.
WILLlS: As a life-cycle manager, the role is a little bit different. What that would mean is to make sure that spares are available to be able to fly those missions. In the field, in the maintenance ops field, what that means is ensuring that you have accounted for and made provision for enough technicians with the right training at the right time.
SZKWAREK: On an operational level, l'm the link between the aircrew and the hangar - anything that's holding the aircraft back, I have to take care of.
SZKWAREK: Generally speaking, l'm a manager. So a manager of resources, manager of personnel, and a manager of risk. The resources are the airplanes you see behind me and all the parts that go on there; the personnel are the technicians, largely, and those are the people that fix the aircraft; and risk - that's me applying my technical know-how to resolve problems to determine whether the aircraft is airworthy.
SZKWAREK: The problems that I encounter on one day are usually something l've never encountered before, so 1have to be somebody who's willing to do research, talk to my people, trust what they have to say, and then come up with decisions that make sense.
SZKWAREK: Making aircraft serviceable is kind of Iike putting pieces of a puzzle together. So there are many different systems - avionics-based, airframe-based, and structures-based - my job is to put those pieces together to ensure that any repair that needs to be done on the aircraft is done in the most efficient, effective manner possible.
SZKWAREK: Our role in operations is to maintain the airworthiness of the aircraft that directly support front Iine operations. Troops, infanteers specifically, that are going to get carted around in Afghanistan depend on the aircraft that we maintain.
WILLlS: It's our role also to make sure that the equipment that they have is exactly what they need to meet their mission. So as the mission and the requirements evolve, as we're deployed to different areas of the world, very specific technical requirements get introduced - to purchase and procure equipment, or to maintain equipment and it's our job to make sure that all of that is in place, on time, when required.
SZKWAREK: That means staying on top of every detail - but most of all, it means providing smart, steady leadership to the men and women who work for you - you've got to be a 'people person' - committed to solving problems and staying focused.
SZKWAREK: Although it's incumbent upon me as an AERE Officer to make sure that 1put rubber on the ramp, the welfare of my people is the most important thing that 1have to worry about in a day.
WILLlS: If serving Canada as an Aerospace Engineering Officer sounds like a path you'd like to follow, there are two ways to do it.
SZKWAREK: The most common route is the one 1took - the Regular Officer Training Plan. 1completed four years at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, leading to a degree in electrical engineering.
WILLlS: If you already have a science or engineering degree, there is also a Direct Entry Option to a career as an Officer in the Canadian Forces.
SZKWAREK: Whichever path you take, you'lI complete your Basic Officer Training, then go on to aircraft operations orientation. That's where you'lIlearn the basics of how the air wing works on a daily basis - what kinds of planes we fly, what missions they support, and how AERE Officers lead the teams that keep them flying.
WILLlS: After the practical phase, you'lI complete an 8-month course at the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Technology and Engineering in Borden, Ontario. Then you'lI be assigned to a wing or squadron specializing in Search and Rescue, Air Transport, Maritime Patrol or Fast Air; or you could be assigned to a team working on a wide range of aerospace engineering projects.
SZKWAREK: AERE Officers serve at home and overseas - in peacetime and in combat situations. And AERE Officers also serve in the Canadian Forces Reserve.
SZKWAREK: Those are unbelievable opportunities for a young officer.
SZKWAREK: Let's put it this way: l'm 28 and l'm responsible for over 100 people. My boss is a few years older than me, and he's responsible for pretty much the entire maintenance organization. 50 from an early age, you're gonna be expected to have a lot of responsibility and a lot of accountability.
SZKWAREK: And because AERE is such a highly technical occupation, you'lI have great post-graduate education opportunities throughout your career.
SZKWAREK: If I had to sum it up in a single word, l'd say the role of an Aerospace Engineering Officer is ensuring 'airworthiness' - but you're also learning about your OWN worthiness - as a team player, as an engineer, and as a leader.