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Want advise on moving up in aviation career

  1. Dec 8, 2009 #1
    I have been in aviation as a mech/tech for about 20 years. Now 40ish and looking at the possibilities of going into aerospace engineering (aeronautical or electrical or...). Basically I am bored of being a mechanic all the time and want to step up to area of design it and figure it out rather than just fix old stuff. I am trying to find a way to justify the expense of going back to school for several years. It will be costly but possibly cost effective over time. The idea of a fun challenge in a new area of aviation is exciting. The thought of it costing me more than I will make back after time spent in school, spending and not making money, is enough to give pause to the idea. I would like to find a few folks that maybe have already done similar and hear from them. I want more from aviation and have invested a lot of my life to it but I am not happy with where I am. It seems then, I should invest in school and go for it. How can I convince myself and my wife with some reasonable degree of assurance that it would be in our best interest for me to be a student for the next 4 to 6 years? Meaning I will be looking at being a new aeronautical/aerospace engineer at the age of 47. The up side is that I will not be new to aviation at 47. Part of this comes from not wanting to be a mechanic crawling around all the time inside of a dirty old aircraft. Which is how I do spend a fair bit of my time now. It has its rewarding times when trouble shooting systems but it will not get easier on an aging fellow as time goes on. In looking at median or entry level wages for engineers compared to my wages there is not a big increase but there is an increase and I am looking for a way to justify the time and money investment.

    I am not so much worried about being an older returning student. I am fairly well self taught and believe in my ability to succeed in school.

    Just looking for some input. Thanks for your time.


    I have been reading some posts here and this seemed a reasonable place to put this. If I should post elsewhere in this forum let me know.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 8, 2009 #2


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    I suppose you could argue a few valid points:

    1) as you are maturing in age you would like to transition into a role that is easier on you
    2) the immediate pay increase and potential increase in the future
    3) you want to do what makes you happy

  4. Dec 8, 2009 #3


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    You should have a very good background for any engineering degree. Be prepared, however, to discover that you have some misconceptions picked up as your years as a tech. You need to be ready to drop all preconceptions that you have.

    I speak from experience here, I am an over educated tech myself. I am an Navy trained electronics tech, One of the defining moments of my life was when a prof succeeded in getting me to drop what I thought I knew and accept what the math was telling me.
  5. Dec 8, 2009 #4


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    This is a tough one. I am never one to turn someone away from engineering. However, after reading your post, there are a few things that I should say that come to mind:

    1. Realize that engineering is drastically different than the notion you have in your mind right now. You will learn a good deal, there's no doubt about it. However, like Integral mentioned, it is pretty obvious that you have a preconceived notion of what an engineer does.

    2. Take a good look at yourself and ask yourself if you really want to be an engineer. Don't think you want to be just because you don't like your current job and think you want a new challenge. Think of the worst case in that you go back to school for 4-5 more years and you still end up hating your job.

    3. Are you prepared for the rigors of an engineering curriculum? Are you well versed in pre-calculus math? If not, you may find yourself spending the better part of a year bringing your scholastic skills back up to academia standards before being able to start on classes that count toward a degree.

    4. Are you prepared, as almost 50 year old, to be the bottom of the barrel, lowest rung on the ladder again in every way (pay, benefits, etc...)?

    5. I do not want to be rude, just truthful, but I can not imagine you being a very good prospect to hire at your age for an entry level position in most engineering firms. I think it would take a special position to open up that your previous skills could also apply. I could see you fitting in as an engineer working in some form of repair and overhaul setting or the like. But in a pure engineering/design and development area...eh not so sure. Especially when you will be going up against 20 somethings.

    Honestly, I would spend some time looking into some form of management role. Why not try to move to a maintenance management role of some kind? I would do my best to try to stay as close to the area you have spent all of your time and where your experience would be most appreciated. Perhaps you could look for an engineering management degree. There are a lot of schools that have that program.

    Sorry to be such a downer, but I would rather you have all of the data in front of you before you make such a drastic change in your life. Whatever you do decide, best of luck. If you do decide to go the engineering route, don't forget PF.
  6. Dec 9, 2009 #5
    Thanks for the response. Some good points.

    I suppose I do have some preconceived ideas, who doesn't? The truth is I really don't know what will happen in 5 years or more. I don't know what jobs will be available for me or what they will really be like. I do know the most rewarding and enjoyable times I have had in my career have been when working with engineers on a structural repair or change to an electrical system installation. Several times I have been able to draw up a repair for an engineer and then get back from them a the full repair document sometimes including copies of my hand drawing with it. I am not saying I already know what I am in for but I do know I like what little involvement I have had the opportunity to enjoy. Same goes for engineers for avionics installations. Some of the engineers had been my leads in the past so that helped in working with them.

    Another point I'll toss in is that I was interviewed and accepted for a tech engineer position a year or so back but the clients changed their plans and the extra tech engineer need went away, so I did not get that job. The one thing I was lacking was specific Auto CAD experience but that was not why I did not get the job. This company had several tech engineers that had worked their way into the job from the mechanic pool. It would have been a challenge but I was excited by the opportunity.

    I know there is more to it than I have seen. Of course there is. I also accept that I may be best suited to work in a repair station or mod center rather than designing a new mode of air travel. I have realized at least one thing, I do enjoy aviation related work. It is among the more rewarding things I have done.

    The money side of this is another issue. Purely from a financial aspect, depending on wether I work as a contractor or a direct, I either make more or less than the entry/median engineer wages I have looked up. The truth is I am not sure what the wages could really be as an engineer if the wages are all over the place like they are for me me currently. If I contract the work is not as steady but in reality neither is direct employment. But I would like to think that as an engineer I could on average at least do better. Also now the economy leaves the job market and wages down So why not go to school now?

    Ultimately I guess what I want is someone besides be to say that the increase in wage will be worth the time and expense. Put simply for example, 10k per year for school for 4 years will equal an additional 10k to 15k of wages with the degree. The only place I see wage claims are from schools but of course schools will promote what they must to get you to pay the tuition.

    Long winded but lots to think about. Thanks to all for discussing this.

  7. Dec 10, 2009 #6


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    At my company (it's not related to aerospace), technicians tend to have trouble becoming an engineer for a couple of reasons.

    The way an engineer needs to think is fundamentally different than how a technician thinks. Engineers work in a requirements and documentation-based environment, where as technicians live in a results-based environment. This can be a problem when a technician becomes an engineer, because they tend to have a "I'll figure it out after I tinker with it enough" mindset. Requirements documents, documentation, and accountability usually take a back-seat for a technician... but are job #1 for an engineer. You will need to "unlearn" a lot of habits and ways of doing things you have learned as a tech, and this might be a very hard thing to do with 20+ years under your belt.

    Just food for thought, Fred might be right about you competing with 20-somethings straight out of school, but anything is possible if you REALLY want it. You might try finding a middle-ground that you can leverage your previous experience in, but only you can decide what's best for you.

    Also keep in mind- you probably won't make as much as you are now as a technician with 20 years of experience. It would probably take you 5-10 years to start making more money, depending on how the company you start with does its career ladder.
  8. Dec 10, 2009 #7
    It's been mentioned, but one path that would be more of a promotion than a career restart would be production or maintenance management. See http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos016.htm.
    Engineering is generally the preferred degree. Some companies (like mine) will only hire people with engineering degrees for operations management unless they were in the military or have some other previous management experience. The job is all about being creative and getting things done whatever it takes (within certain constraints). You'd also probably be involved in the design of processes and decisions about what equipment to buy, if not the design of the equipment itself.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  9. Dec 13, 2009 #8
    You probably want to consider an MBA (perhaps part-time) and move into management.
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