Reader JD Casteel responded to our call to readers to see how they make a living in aviation. Here’s what he had to say:
“I have loved general aviation since I can remember…no, really, since I can remember. One of my earliest memories was on a small ranch near Tishomingo, Oklahoma, that my father worked on. They were using a Bell 47 for a spraying job. I remember the pure excitement seeing that helicopter approaching our truck for landing, followed by the pure fear from the loud noise it made.
I cried. I was around 3 years old at the time. My father tells me that I was happy before it landed, cried while it was on the ground due to the noise, then continued crying after it took off because I wanted it to come back. This mindset of not knowing what I want has followed me through life.
My door to general aviation opened when I was in high school. There was a local technical school, Gordon Cooper Technology Center, in Shawnee, Oklahoma, that offered Airframe and Powerplant Training. This training was available to high school students at relatively no cost! I took my entrance exams and was accepted to the program.
After I graduated I went straight to college and pursued a non-aviation degree. After graduating from the junior college I moved to Alva, Oklahoma, to attend Northwestern Oklahoma State University, where I received a Bachelors of Mathematics.
While in Alva I was offered a position with Vantage Plane Plastics. I did everything from install interior components, build vacuum tooling, design new parts, to assisting in training members of an aircraft assembly line to install their own interior components.
The director of quality assurance at Plane Plastics, Dale Logsdon, took me under his wing and mentored me for almost four years. He was a 30-plus-year A&P an also an I.A. I work many nights in his personal shop on the airport learning all sorts of tips and tricks — the types of things that you can only learn from someone with that many years of experience. I got hands-on experience working on a range of Pipers, Cessnas, Mooneys, Beechcraft, all the way to two P-51 Mustangs.
After four and a half years I wanted to get a little jet maintenance experience…and bounce around a bit. I was 25 and single! I made the decision to pack up and move to Uvalde, Texas, and go to work for Sierra Industries. After a time with Sierra I was offered a teaching position with Texas State Technical College. I taught with some of the best people that I have known in aviation.
Two weeks before Christmas the general manager of Plane Plastics called me and asked if I would be interested in coming back to Alva and installing interiors as continued quality assurance for the company. That sounded very interesting to me so I jumped on it…still single, so why not?
I spent another three and a half years with Plane Plane Plastics. I attended AirVenture each year, SUN ‘ FUN, and many other regional fly-ins. I manned the booth for Plane Plastics. I also gave forums on how to install plastic and reduce costs.
In May of this year the bug got me again when I made the decision to fulfill a dream. I have always wanted to live in the Texas Hill Country. No it isn’t walking in space or flying around the world, but it is what I wanted.
That dream became reality when Falcon Insurance offered me a position with its Commercial Department. I now reside in Kerrville, Texas, and loving every minute of it. Each day I speak with people from every facet of general aviation.I still go to the shows/fly-ins and I still work on aircraft. I’m still not a real pilot though…I’m getting ready for the checkride. I’ve been getting ready for a number of years. I have a motivator in my life now. She is a real pilot and is helping me prepare for that big test!
I love the freedom and unlimited experiences that general aviation has to offer. GA can take you anywhere you want to go in the world and introduce you to some amazing people. I wouldn’t want to be in any other industry!