A former Winnipeg resident who now spends most of his time in Thompson, Man., San Diego graduated from RRC’s Aircraft Maintenance Engineer program in 2007. Though he’s always been mechanically-minded (his father was a hobby mechanic, and he spent his high school years studying robotics) he’s also harbored a lifelong fascination with flying, which he now gets to indulge as one of the few licensed pilots working in an engineering capacity at Perimeter Aviation.
“That’s pretty rare,” says San Diego, who managed to earn his pilot’s license while apprenticing at St. Andrews Airport, his first post-RRC place of employment.
“There are probably 100 people working at Perimeter right now, and only me and Mark (Wehrle, Perimeter’s President) can do both.”
To clarify again, San Diego did not undergo any flight training at Red River (though RRC does offer an Aviation Management program in partnership with Harv’s Air and Winnipeg Aviation). In San Diego’s case, his AME course provided him with the skills required to service helicopters and large and small aircraft. And thanks to a rather generous co-worker — St. Andrews Airport staffer Al Hartwig — San Diego managed to rack up enough flight time to qualify for his private pilot’s license.
“He had two airplanes at St. Andrews and he saw that I had an interest in it, so he started taking me up with him every morning, which is how I logged a lot of my hours,” says San Diego, noting his experience in the pilot’s seat gives him a definite advantage over engineers and mechanics that have never flown before.
After spending a year at St. Andrews, San Diego was hired at Perimeter’s Thompson Airport location, where the AME crew originally consisted of just him and one other person. In the ensuing years, he’s logged enough hours to earn his commercial pilot’s license, while watching Perimeter and its team of employees grow in size and scope.
San Diego currently serves as Crew Chief of the AME team at Thompson, where he’s often tasked with supervising recent graduates from RRC and other technical institutions.
“In my experience, the training from (RRC’s Stevenson Campus) is far superior,” he says.
“When the graduates come in, they just seem to have a better knowledge — a better overall understanding of what’s expected of them.”
In addition to his dual roles, San Diego also boasts another distinction: He’s also got his National Aircraft Certification, which allows him to fly all but one of Perimeter’s fleet of 39 planes.
He says his parents are extremely proud of the quick progress he’s made as both an engineer and a pilot — as is his grandfather, who once made his living flying a crop duster.
“When we were younger, he’d take me up,” says San Diego of his grandfather. “I’d sit in his lap and every once in a while he’d let me take the controls.”
In the coming months, San Diego hopes to find a job out of Winnipeg. (He and his fiancée plan to get married next fall, and although he loves life in Thompson — in particular the hunting and fishing in summer — he’d rather raise his family in his hometown.)
He’s also hoping the new position allows him to indulge his twin passions: Keeping planes in tip-top shape, and being able to take the controls every now and then.
“I can’t really say that I like one better than the other,” he says.
“I love flying, but I’ve always been a really mechanical person, so if I had to give one up, it’d be tough.”