A soldier, an airman, an AMT, and a student. Four people with distinctly different backgrounds, yet nonetheless, they share a passion for aviation maintenance, the drive for excellence and the respect of their peers – traits that made them the ideal recipients of the Charles E. Taylor Professional AMT Award.
Presented during the annual international Aerospace Maintenance Competition Presented by Snap-on at the MRO Americas conference, the Taylor AMT Award is named in honor of Charles Taylor, the first aviation mechanic in powered flight.
“What we’re looking for in recipients are technicians who embody the true traits of Charles Taylor and demonstrate pride and professionalism in all they do,” says Ken MacTiernan, chairman of the Aerospace Maintenance Competition Presented by Snap-on. “These recipients exemplify the true spirit of the competition, and that’s sharing of knowledge, learning, camaraderie and giving back to the industry.”
The Aerospace Maintenance Competition is an event that gives teams of licensed aviation maintenance technicians (AMT), Aviation Structural Mechanics – Safety Equipment (AME), international military personnel, and qualified aviation maintenance students the chance to test their skills against those of their peers. The competition includes 24 challenges in areas such as avionics, safety wiring, fiber optics/flight control rigging, hydraulics, jet engine troubleshooting, workplace safety SMS and other tasks.
Last year, the AMC last year attracted a record 51 teams from around the world. Teams have 15 minutes to accurately complete each assigned task; teams that finish their tasks in less than the allotted time received higher scores.
With hundreds of competitors, selecting the Taylor AMT Award recipients is no easy task. The Taylor AMT Award was first presented in 2012; the AMC expanded the scope of the competition last year to create a student-focused award as well. Award recipients receive a gold-plated Snap-on wrench and other prizes. MacTiernan says he hopes that recipients can leverage the award to further their maintenance careers and use it as a means to give back to the industry – and that’s exactly what’s occurring with many of the past winners.
Staff Sgt. Dallas McLeod – U.S. Army Team Apache (2016)
Dallas McLeod knew early on that he was headed for a career in maintenance.
“I’ve been a mechanic all my life,” says the 31-year-old U.S. Army staff sergeant stationed at Joint Base Langley Eustis in Virginia. “I grew up with an older brother who was a mechanic by trade, so I just followed in his footsteps.”
Following high school, McLeod enrolled at WyoTech in Laramie, Wyoming, to study automotive repair. After working in the industry for a few years, he was feeling ready for a shift in his career – and then he saw a television commercial for the U.S. Army.
“I always wanted to join the Army, and the time was right to do it,” he says. “I didn’t want to work on cars anymore. Aviation intrigued me, so I started looking at helicopters.”
McLeod attended his first AMC with Team U.S. Army in 2015. He didn’t really know what to expect that first year, but after completing the first few events, he calmed his jitters and performed well. The team returned last year, funding the trip to Dallas themselves.
“For us, attending the AMC is all about meeting people in the industry and building those relationships with your peers throughout the aviation community. That’s what we were looking forward to the most,” he says.
When his name was called as the Charles E. Taylor Professional AMT Award winner during the awards ceremony, McLeod says he was shocked.
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“I didn’t think I did anything special. Having been there the year prior I was much more relaxed and interacted more with the other teams and had fun with the judges,” he said. “But when they called my name I was kind of awestruck.
“I’m very honored to be part of such prestigious history with the Taylor Award, and definitely would enjoy returning to the AMC, even if I’m not part of a competing team but because of the atmosphere and what it promotes.”
Now in his ninth year of military service, McLeod plans to make a 20-year career with the Army. He now trains younger soldiers on Apache maintenance.
“The biggest thing I tell my soldiers is to treat the aircraft as something that you were going to be flying on every day,” he says. “Make sure you’re looking at the proper books and using the proper tools. Take pride in what you do and everything will come naturally.”
Brandon Dubberly – Eastern Florida State College (2015)
Growing up in the shadow of NASA’s space program in Cape Canaveral, FL, Brandon Dubberly figured he might make it a career someday. His first step was enrolling in Eastern Florida State College to study aerospace technology. It was there in his senior year when a teacher suggested he and a few other students consider forming a team to enter the Aerospace Maintenance Competition.
“I believe this was the first time anyone from our school attended,” Dubberly says. “Our teacher thought it was a good idea for students to get involved – he was right.”
As a person who “loves to turn wrenches and constantly learn,” Dubberly, 29, found the AMC to be a perfect venue for him. The team practiced as much as they could before making the trek down to Miami, the location of the 2015 AMC. He thought the team did OK considering they had never been to the competition before. At the awards ceremony, Dubberly said he had no idea he was being considered for the Taylor Award…until his name was called.
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“They called out Brandon, and then kind of fumbled my last name,” he says with a chuckle. “It hit me like a ton of bricks. I was all teary-eyed, and so was our teacher, Mr. Fletcher. I was pretty happy they even noticed who I was among all those competitors.
“I really enjoyed the competition and the work we did there. I guess it was just my enthusiasm for getting my hands on stuff that stood out to the judges.”
Dubberly graduated with honors in August 2016 and is now working as a mechanical technician for a contractor under Lockheed Martin at the Kennedy Space Center. He’s involved in building the new Orion spacecraft that will be part of the Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), a planned three-week mission that will take the Orion thousands of miles beyond the moon. His ultimate goal is to go back to school and earn an operations management degree and continue to advance in his career.
“I’ve always felt if you’re going to manage something, you should know what you’re talking about,” he says. “I’d much rather get the experience as a technician first and then run the show because you’ll have the respect of your peers. You’ll be one of those managers who has been down in the trenches.”
Dubberly looks back at his experience at the AMC with great pride and a place he really started his career.
“The event is great for students; can’t be any better for someone about ready to graduate,” he says. “It got me exposure to industry professionals, and some people even handed me their business cards to call them about jobs.
“I also gained so much respect for Charles Taylor. I read the book on him that was assigned to us – I ate that up. It was really cool to learn about him, and winning the Taylor Award, it’s such an honor.”
Geoff Hyatt – Virgin Australia (2014)
Like many young people, Geoff Hyatt faced a crossroads when determining his career path. For Hyatt, it was either attend a traditional four-year university course, or head off to a technical school and earn a trade certificate in aviation.
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He ended up making a decision…with a little help from his brother’s friend.
“My brother’s best mate, he’s an avionics engineer, and at the point I was figuring out what I wanted to do, I thought going to earn my trade certificate was a better way of going about it,” Hyatt says. “I thought I’d like the aviation route better than going to university, and possibly wasting four years. I liked what my brother’s mate did and decided to go that way, and now I work with him. He’s on my crew and I see him all the time!”
That fateful decision was almost 20 years ago. Today, Hyatt, 39, and his brother’s best mate work together as avionics engineers at Virgin Australia in Melbourne, Australia. It’s his strong work ethic that helped Hyatt earn an invitation to join a team of fellow Aussie technicians and enter the 2014 AMC in Las Vegas.
“I agreed to go with a lot of trepidation,” he says. “I was very nervous and concerned that I wouldn’t be able to perform on stage and do my thing. But it turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
Due to logistics, Hyatt’s team didn’t get a chance to train together prior to the competition. But he did seek out advice from other Aussie technicians who had been to the AMC to gain insight on what to expect. All in all, Hyatt felt he and the team did all right – and so did the judges.
When his name was announced as the Taylor Award winner, Hyatt was pleasantly surprised.
“I wasn’t expecting it; I had no inkling I was in the running for it, but what a rush of adrenalin walking down to accept the award,” he says. “To come away with the Taylor Award is something that will be with me for the rest of my career.”
Hyatt says he’s made great new friends from the AMC, and offered up this advice for future participants.
“If you’re going to the competition fresh, just trust your training,” Hyatt says. “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, just being there and meeting other people and learning from each other is so valuable. The trials and tribulations you go through in the industry, you learn from others that it’s going on in the other side of the world too. Being able to network and share experiences with others is great, and that’s what the AMC gives you.”
Kevin Meredith – U.S. Air Force (2012)
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When 29-year-old Kevin Meredith looks back at the 2012 AMC, the one thing that stands out for him was the concept of teamwork.
“I was the engine guy in that competition from my team, but we had never touched this specific engine in the event before,” Meredith says. “The training you get in the Air Force, you rely on your team to accomplish things. You help each other out and do what we need to do to succeed. There’s a lot more moving parts and people to maintenance, much more than just the nuts and bolts that go in it.”
In 2012 Meredith was an aerospace propulsion journeyman stationed at Charleston AFB in South Carolina. Charleston AFB entered two teams in the AMC; Meredith’s team ended up taking third in the military category. He says one of the challenges his team faced is that they had never worked on many of the systems that were represented in the various events – but they turned that hurdle into a success story.
“That was one of the best parts and made it a lot of fun in that we really got to test our skills and abilities as far as maintenance went,” Meredith says. “We had never touched many of these things before, but we viewed it as ‘now let’s see how good we really are.’”
During the awards ceremony that year, MacTiernan announced the creation of the Charles E. Taylor Professional AMT Award. As he spent a few minutes talking about the it and listing the qualities and characteristics that the award exemplifies, Meredith’s teammates had an idea of who would be the first to receive the prestigious honor.
“Ken starts talking about the award and the guys behind me are saying, ‘hey, he’s talking about you,’” Meredith recalls. “I just laughed it off, and sure enough 30 seconds later Ken asked if there was a Senior Airman Kevin Meredith here. I was just blown away. There are some 150 competitors here and to be selected for the Taylor Award was really an honor.”
Meredith has cross-trained into a new career field, becoming a flight engineer on the giant C-5 Galaxy. He also left active duty and joined the Air Force Reserve. It’s this constant strive to learn from others that keeps pushing Meredith to expand his horizons and explore new opportunities.
“It’s almost cliché but always stands out in my mind – one of the first lines in The Great Gatsby is ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had,’” Meredith says.
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“That’s so true. Never take anyone for granted around you and always learn from everyone around you, because you don’t know where they’ve been through.
“Even if you’ve done something since 3 years old, you have to take a step back, slow down, and watch the guy next to you because he could be doing it better than you.”
Steve Staedler is a senior account executive at LePoidevin Marketing, a Brookfield, WI-based business-to-business marketing firm that specializes in the tooling and aerospace industries. Staedler has been covering aeronautical maintenance for nearly 10 years; is a former newspaper reporter and retired master sergeant from the U.S. Air Force Reserve, where he worked maintenance and public affairs.