But when the country in question is Angola — and the work involves flying a Cessna Caravan over much of south-central Africa — it’s probably fair to say there are worse ways to spend 12 months.
Just ask Red River College grad Jonathan Epp, who got a bird’s-eye view of Africa as a pilot and aircraft mechanic with Mission Aviation Fellowship, a faith-based international group that provides charter flights to doctors, missionaries and aid workers in developing nations.
A native of small-town Saskatchewan, Epp had never been outside North America before, and was quickly taken by the beauty of Africa’s landscape — the sweeping grasslands and mountains, plunging cliffs and waterfalls. He says he expected to encounter some culture shock on arrival — a lack of amenities and certain creature comforts — but admits to feeling even greater shock when he returned home to Winnipeg.
“After being there for a year and coming back, it really shocked me how materialistic we are,” says Epp, who graduated from RRC’s Aircraft Maintenance Engineer Apprenticeship program in 2002, and now works as an instructor for the program at the College’s Stevenson Campus on Saskatchewan Avenue.
“Here, everyone wants a bigger house, or they’ve got to have a big screen TV and two cars and a boat. And we work so hard for it — we work these long hours, 50, 60 hours a week. I came back and thought, ‘What are we doing this for?’”
The shift in perspective has helped Epp charter a pretty impressive career path for himself — one he first embarked upon by earning his aviation degree and commercial pilot’s license from Providence College in the 1990s. His first job after graduating was as a flight instructor at Harv’s Air in Steinbach, but when the opportunity to “switch places” with one of the mechanics on staff arose, Epp found a way to indulge his interest in aviation maintenance, as well.
“He became a flight instructor and I became an apprentice mechanic,” says Epp. “That’s when I began the AME (Apprenticeship) Program at Stevenson Aviation Technical Training Centre.”
When Epp began the program in 1999, Stevenson was only operating out of its location at Southport Aerospace Centre. (Stevenson opened a second campus on Saskatchewan Avenue in 2002, and merged with Red River College later the same year).
Having been mechanically inclined since he was young, Epp says he felt right at home in the program, and drew particular inspiration from his classmates, all of whom had a range of previous experience working with aircraft.
“In the apprenticeship course, especially, they all have jobs before they start, so some guys had worked on large airliners, some guys had worked on smaller planes, some had worked on helicopters,” says Epp, whose father was a hobby pilot. “You get all these guys together in a class and you get different perspectives from everybody. It was enriching that way, because it wasn’t just the instructor talking about something we had no idea about.”
After graduating in 2002, Epp returned to Harv’s Air, where he worked as both a shop mechanic and flight instructor until 2004, when he signed on for the mission work in Africa. He spent most of his time overseas stationed at a hangar in Lubango, where he grew to embrace the far more “relaxed” lifestyle of the locals.
“A lot of countries in Africa are much more laid back than we are here,” says Epp, shown at right in Tanzania. “Here, things are timed to the minute — if I’ve got an airplane inspection scheduled for today and I need to get it done by four this afternoon, if I need parts I’ll call and have them rushed over the same day. Over there, it’s more, ‘Well … we’ll maybe get your parts in later next week.’”
After returning to Winnipeg in 2005, Epp resumed his work at Harv’s Air (this time at St. Andrew’s), where he remained until 2009, by which time he’d assumed responsibility for the maintenance of the entire fleet of aircraft. He resigned later that year because he felt ready for a change, and soon learned of an opening on RRC’s instructor staff via his spot on Stevenson’s advisory committee.
Since taking the job with RRC, Epp has been able to pass on much of the knowledge and experience he’s amassed over the years, and to follow in the footsteps of his former instructors — many of whom are now his colleagues.
“A lot of the instructors I’d had modeled some really good attributes, like just being transparent,” he says. “If you don’t know something, saying you don’t know, but you’ll find out, or being available to students for questions that might not be exactly in line with what you’re teaching. Having a broad enough knowledge base to answer questions that are slightly off-topic.”
“I really enjoy working with airplanes and I enjoy teaching people about aircraft, and I get to do both those things here,” he continues. “I get to talk about things I like — and things I know about — and help people to understand them better.”
Click here for more information on RRC’s Aircraft Maintenance Engineer Apprenticeship program. Click here for more information on the College’s Aviation Management program, which operates in conjunction with Harv’s Air and Winnipeg Aviation, and allows graduates to earn their private and commercial pilot’s licenses.