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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Fresno Aviation campus graduates hired to build spacecraft

January 12, 2017
Virgin Spaceship Unity
Copyright: Virgin Galactic. Virgin Spaceship Unity (VSS Unity) glides for the first time after being released from Virgin Mothership Eve (VMS Eve) over the Mojave Desert on 3rd, December 2016.

Who has never looked up into the night sky and dreamed of the thrilling possibility of space travel? Two recent and one soon-to-be Fresno Aviation Maintenance Technician graduates just signed on with The Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic’s sister company, to help make those dreams a reality.

“I so wanted to do this, as a kid,” says Louis McArthur, one of the three new hires from the Fresno Aviation campus. “I wanted to build a giant rocket and send it to space.” Now he will do just that.

During five decades of human spaceflight, only 558 people have been above the earth’s atmosphere into outer space. Virgin Galactic plans to increase that number dramatically, as they build new spacecraft specifically constructed for civilian space travel. SpaceShipTwo is the spacecraft Louis and fellow Aviation Maintenance Technician classmates, John McKinney and Austin Antosh, will commit their education and skills toward building.

There are already more than 700 civilians from 50 countries who have applied and made a $250,000 deposit for a seat on one of these spacecraft. Only the best-of-the-best Airframe and Power Plant (A&P) technicians will be invited to participate in construction of the elite SpaceShipTwo.

Steve Losey, Production Manager at The Spaceship Company, interviewed Louis, John and Austin for Systems Associate Manufacturing Technician positions in November. “We were told that they are in the business to hire only the right people, so they may have to walk away with zero new hires,” says Louis. After the application process and multiple phone and in-person interviews, all three Aviation Maintenance Technician job candidates received job offers in December for a January 2017 start date.

“I was super excited because one of my dream jobs was to work in the space industry,” says Louis. “I was jumping up and down.” Louis and his wife loaded up a U-Haul and moved from Fresno closer to the company facility in Mojave.

“Steve Losey was well-pleased with the people he interviewed,” says Sue Montgomery, who works with Aviation Maintenance Technician students and potential employers to match education and talent to aviation mechanic positions. “But, that is what he expects when he comes here.”

Louis will be responsible for assembling parts – wings, hull, tail – which are made one hangar over from his workstation. “I will attach the wings to the hull, the tail; and my favorite part will be running wires throughout the aircraft and installing the instruments…pretty much what I like to call putting the brains into the body,” says Louis.

“The Spaceship Company’s goal is to build safe aircraft,” says Sue. “It is a brand-new concept, and there are no existing parts; they have to make everything from nothing. It’s new aircraft based solely on a prototype.”

Louis credits SJVC’s Aviation Maintenance Technician program with giving him exactly what he needed to qualify for his new position. “I had no real experience with planes before coming to this school,” says Louis. “So, the fact that I got hired on, this (AMT program) is pretty much the reason I got the job.”

This wasn’t the job Louis was expecting to land after completing the Aviation Maintenance Technology program at the campus’ Fresno-Yosemite International Airport location. “My goal when I left school was to get a stable job in (aircraft) manufacturing; just take the first job that popped up and slowly build up experience for a year or two…or ten…before getting a space job.”

He could have set his sights higher. Much higher. Beyond the earth’s atmosphere, higher.

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