Women wiring the sky from flight control to navigation

  • Published
  • By Jessica L. Kendziorek
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

In a technology career field, working on an aircraft isn’t normally the first thing that comes to mind, it is normally something computer or data related.

“The C-130Js are just really big computers that fly,” said Master Sgt. Katie Williams, 403rd Maintenance Group avionics quality assurance inspector. “It has all the necessary pieces, wires, and communication lines that it needs to use to fly.”

Prior to becoming an avionics quality assurance inspector, Williams worked as an instrumentation and flight control systems technician working on both the WC-130J and C-130J Super Hercules.

“I always say IFCS is the best,” she said laughing. “It uses all the instruments to tell the pilots where they are, how fast they are going and even how high they are.”

Williams explained how the aircraft mission computer is like the “brain” of the plane, it takes in a bunch of raw data: airspeed, altitude, etc., computes that data and sends it out to the necessary instruments that it needs to go through to keep the aircraft flying.

There is a lot that goes into getting a plane in the air, but avionics technicians are largely responsible for the maintenance of the electronic systems.

“As an avionics tech, you have to learn how each piece works individually and how they work together to get the plane where it needs to go,” she said.

Williams said that this career field has been very rewarding and is important, even though she didn’t know what she was getting into when she enlisted.

Her recruiter recommended the avionics career field based on her high scores on the electrical and mechanical sections of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test.

“My recruiter was from an IFCS background and gave me some direction. I took a few electrical college classes before I left for basic to prepare myself, and it really helped a lot having that baseline of knowledge,” said Williams. “I am thankful for having one of the better recruiters because it has opened a lot of doors, from traditional reservist to Air Reserve Technician, now to Active Guard Reserve and I am moving up to headquarters.”  

While Williams knew that the career she was getting into was maintenance on the avionics systems, Senior Airman Sydni Sorvino, 403rd Maintenance Squadron communication, navigation and mission systems technician did not have that same knowledge.

Sorvino, a 20-year-old fresh out of technical school, who is still in upgrade training said she was terrified when she first arrived at the 403rd Wing.

“It is a lot like working on a car, but it is this huge plane,” she said. “I am afraid to mess up because I am still in training, but we follow the technical order and repeat the procedures over and over until we know them.”

While still a job in avionics, Sorvino’s job in COMNAV focuses on the electronic warfare sections of the aircraft which is the defensive equipment on the plane, the radios for communications, and the navigation systems to provide for directions for the pilots and navigators.

“When I came here and they asked what I remembered, it was hard to answer,” said Sorvino. “But when someone would ask me about something specific; that’s when it would trigger in my mind, and I would remember.”

Sorvino, being on the smaller side as a female, said being in this career sometimes proves challenging, when it comes to the physical aspect of the job, the use of tools, the lifting, because some parts already require a two-person lift.

“The hardest part for me is the physical parts of the job and being able to put what I learned from school together with actually doing it hands-on,” said Sorvino. “The book learning in technical school wasn’t as hard for me because I was always good in school.”

Sorvino recommends knowing about your career field of choice before you make up your mind.

“I learned about tools I didn’t even know existed until I got into this job,” she said. “I think you should be well informed of what the tasks of the job are, the types of equipment you will use, and what you are capable of personally.”

“This is not something that I thought that I would be doing,” Sorvino said. “So, I am extremely proud of myself to be doing this now.”