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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Aviation Maintenance Technology grad thinks he is one lucky guy

July 6, 2017

AMT graduate Norm with instructor Thomas Sabatino

“I smile a little more, have a little bounce in my step,” says Norm McCraine, recent Fresno – Aviation campus graduate. “My whole attitude toward life has changed because this is an unbelievably good job.”

Last month, Norm went to work for Virgin Galactic as an Avionic A&P Technician (“spacewrench”) on SpaceShipTwo in Mohave. He can’t say very much about the specifics of his work because much of it is classified and not available to the public. “All I can really say is that this aircraft is capable of meeting or exceeding aircraft design standards,” he hedges. “I tell my supervisor every day that I can’t believe that they actually pay people to do this. I’m having a blast!”

Norm is 42 years old and recently retired from the Navy as an Aviation Electronic Technician. Even with all his experience with aircraft, he soon realized that he could not qualify for any of the jobs that interested him without an Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) license.

He got online and found 4-5 options for training. SJVC’s Aviation Maintenance Technology (AMT) program in Fresno offered accelerated training and a degree. “I researched to see what people thought about the program,” says Norm. “There were a bunch of different reviews, and what I saw was pretty positive.”

Norm went to an SJVC Aviation Open House and started the program the following week. “I was impressed by the fact that the campus had airport access and actually had an aircraft to work on; not just little trainer bits and pieces.”

He was in his element and, because of his 22 years of aviation experience in the Navy, quickly became an unofficial mentor to other students. He encouraged fellow students to ask a lot of questions to get the most they could out of the Aviation Maintenance Technology program.

“If you’re having a problem, don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if you think it’s a stupid question,” says Norm. “If you’re thinking of that question, probably at least half a dozen other people are wondering the same thing. Hey, you’re paying to learn something; if you’ve got a question, ask it!”

Norm often took the lead. “If I didn’t understand something, I’d be the first one to raise the flag on it,” he says. “A couple of times, I thought I knew something and would challenge the instructors; most of the time they were right. I figured out they were a lot smarter than I even thought they were,” he laughs.

“Norm, from day one, showed leadership to his fellow classmates,” says Jason Alves, Aviation program instructor. “He helped and mentored the younger students throughout the time he was here. Whenever other visitors came on campus, I could always count on Norm to be there to share what the students were learning at that moment.”

Learning could also be a lot of fun. “If you finished your lab early and had some spare time, they let you work on the aircraft in the hangar,” says Norm. “It was a lot of fun to tinker. Plus, the more experience you get, you won’t be afraid to actually jump on it and get to work.”

Struggles are common too, and for Norm it was bucking rivets. “You have to use a bucking bar and air hammer to buckle the metal properly,” he says. “It was hard at first, but I could probably do it now with my eyes closed.”

Norm graduated with a 3.97 GPA and “was recognized as Student of the Aero for his exceptional leadership, outstanding performance in grades and attendance,” says Mr. Alves.

Norm’s wife Crystal and his parents Lynn and Bettie are very proud of his accomplishments. “I’m pretty much the first person in my family to go to college,” says Norm. “I got more than I expected to get out of the program, and I do not have a single regret.”

Norm waited for the right job offer. “It was really easy getting a job, as I had three solid offers within weeks of graduating,” he says. “But, I always wanted to do something different, something exciting,” says Norm. “Building a commercial spaceship is an exciting field. And, if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

His 4-day, 10-hour-per-day workweek has Norm in the mix of something important. He also, occasionally, runs into other SJVC Aviation graduates who landed positions there.

“They (Virgin Galactic) go out and try to find the best talent they can to work on the “mothership,” they call WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo,” he says. “There is, literally, just a rope line between us and the engineers; and if we have a problem we walk over to the engineer and ask a question.”

That has Norm thinking about what might be next for him to conquer. “I’m probably looking at an aeronautical degree or electrical engineering degree,” he says. “I want to get into designing some of these aircraft. Set your goals. As long as you keep dreaming, you never grow old,” he says.

Until he makes that commitment, Norm will spend some of the next few years restoring his classic 1969 MGB convertible. He named her Vicky.

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