California’s North Valley Occupational Center at Van Nuys recently added night classes for students in the aviation technical school’s aircraft mechanics program to better prepare them for the FAA’s airframe and powerplant mechanic licensing exam.
“Daytime students take general mechanics, airframe, and powerplant classes, and it’s primarily for adults,” said Rosario Galvan, the aviation center’s principal. “The evening is more for seniors in high school, and once they graduate from high school they can come in as daytime students and be ahead of the game.”
Students pay $300 per quarter for aircraft mechanic classes at the Van Nuys Airport. The school is close to the tower so that students can watch airplanes take off and land all day long, said Galvan, and it reinforces the importance of their course work and safety procedures. He said future plans might include a six-week summer school session geared toward high school students so they can get a feel for the industry before diving in.
One of the aircraft mechanic schools’ biggest supporters is Clay Lacy Aviation, an icon across the field from North Valley’s working classrooms where students dissect engines and airframes instead of frogs and grasshoppers.
“Get this,” said Galvan, clearly moved by Lacy’s generosity. “Mr. Clay Lacy donated two of his retired jets to our school and just last week he committed to giving us ongoing $10,000 scholarships. He’s our Godfather, he’s helped us so much.”
Galvan said students graduating from North Valley’s 2,400-hour licensing program have received help lining up jobs from Lacy’s team because of the firm’s extensive list of aviation contacts.
The aviation mechanics program received a big boost in 2013 from another Los Angeles-based aviation firm when Sensor Systems Inc. antenna company owners Si and Betty Robin surprised the school with a $100,000 donation. The pair was on stage to accept accolades at the California Council for Adult Education awards this year when Galvan’s program got another surprise.
“Si and Betty were the keynote speakers because we were honoring them this year for their $100,000 donation and Si said, ‘Rosario could you use another $50,000?’ I couldn’t believe it, people were going wild and dancing around, it was the greatest thing.”
Mike Phillips, one of four daytime A&P instructors complementing a solo night instructor, said all of the teachers hold private pilot certificates and are immersed in aviation. One instructor has a background in radial engines; another has experience working with corporate aviation and turbine engines; and several specialize in rotorcraft operations. Phillips serviced helicopters for off-shore oil rigs in Texas and Louisiana and earned his A&P certificate when he was 24 years old. The mechanic said he has taught at several aviation technical schools in California, but for the last 16 years he’s called North Valley his home. “I started with teaching night classes and then moved to the daytime courses. We’re one of the few schools in the state to offer high school students an aviation mechanics program and it’s the only one in Los Angeles,” Phillips noted.
Not only are the instructors knowledgeable in aviation matters, they have to be good teachers and good coaches, too. “We get all types of students and some don’t have much confidence so we build that up,” said Phillips. “One kid struggled to stay in school and right now he’s doing really well and he knows where he’s going. It’s a real plus for him.”
An emerging trend, noted Phillips, is an increase in female aviation mechanics entering the program. He said that eight out of the 170 students currently enrolled in the A&P program are female and he would like to see that number increase. Phillips said women are quite serious about their studies and he feels the diversity adds a lot to the program and to aviation, too.
Phillips said he doesn’t have to go far to find a local success story from the program. Standout student Larry Van Zyl graduated with an A&P certificate a few years ago and began his maintenance career working on King Airs and jets while studying for his private, commercial, instrument, and airline transport pilot ratings and certificates. Van Zyl thought so much of the aviation mechanics program at North Valley that he returned to teach the next generation of A&P mechanics during the week. He handles his corporate flying assignments on weekends.
Giving back to the aviation community and working around small airplanes keeps experienced hands-on instructors like Van Zyl and Phillips on the faculty at North Valley’s aviation center.
“I love helping them get started on a career of their own,” said Phillips. “For me to be able to pass this along to the students, it’s great to see that light bulb come on. I tell them it’s a job with a lot of respect, responsibility, and pay to go along with that.”