(ABILENE, Texas) – Sarah Penney knew exactly where she wanted to study after she left the U.S. Air Force.
Penney, who served for 12 years in the Air Force, knew that Texas State Technical College’s 16-week FAST Trac Airframe and Powerplant training program prepares veterans, as well as civilians and active-service personnel, to become well-rounded technicians.
The commute would be the only issue for Penney. She is a member of the National Guard in Rhode Island, so attending the program’s evening classes meant returning to Abilene. She was previously stationed at Dyess Air Force Base as a crew chief of a Lockheed C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft.
While living with friends in Taylor County, Penney completed the program last month.
“I did a lot of research, and what I found is that a lot of the programs were four weeks long,” she said. “TSTC offered the program over a few months, and I knew I would get what I paid for in the program. Attending the TSTC program meant I would be ready to take my test.”
The FAST Trac Airframe and Powerplant training program is designed for anyone eligible to have their airman certificate or rating signed by the Federal Aviation Administration on the basis of prior civilian or military aviation maintenance experience. Penney said now that she has completed the program, she plans to test and hopefully begin her next career, which is working on piston airplanes.
Cindy Brunett, TSTC’s executive director of Workforce Training and Continuing Education, said Penney’s commitment is why her team makes FAST Trac courses available to qualified students.
“Her commitment reflects the level of quality and structure we put into this program,” Brunett said. “We are proud to be able to provide such a program to Dyess and our Abilene community.”
“I liked the pace of the class in Abilene,” Penney said. “I was able to come into the hangar early and practice on the engines. It is good to have the ability to set the pace you want to succeed.”
Penney is like many airmen who have taken advantage of the program.
“A lot of my friends who were stationed here highly recommended this program,” she said.
She was surprised by instructor Willie Rodriguez’s willingness to work with students when other duties occasionally conflict with class schedules.
“He knows that the military will pull you away during this class,” she said. “He is going to make sure to make the time for you to make up for the work you miss.”
When Penney does come in early, Rodriguez is ready to help her.
“Willie will always pepper me with questions to make sure I am ready for the tests,” she said. “He also will show me something in the book but wants me to go out there and show him on the plane how to do it. That is a great way for me to learn.”
The former high school track and field athlete decided early that she was not going to be a traditional college student.
“I talked to an Air Force recruiter, and they said I could do whatever I wanted,” she said. “I thought planes were pretty cool and decided to join.”
After six years stationed in Little Rock, Arkansas, was transferred to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls and later to Dyess Air Force Base. She knew that a career working on airplanes after her time in the military ended was a possibility.
“I knew early on in my career that working on airplanes would be something I would enjoy,” she said.
Penney said she hopes more airmen look at TSTC’s program after leaving the military.
“I hope this program continues to grow,” she said. “I know it is a big-time commitment for those on active duty. It is worth doing if you plan to continue a career in aviation.”
The need for aircraft mechanics and service technicians in Texas was forecast to grow 16% between 2020 and 2030, according to onetonline.org. The average salary for a technician in the state is $67,680, the website stated.
Registration for TSTC’s fall semester is underway. For more information, visit tstc.edu.