“Water can get into those areas and when the aircraft is in flight, it freezes and expands,” Whitaker said. “That causes cracks and separation.”
The students’ job is to cut away the surface damage, inspect the honeycomb for damage, cut it out and replace it, and then cut a patch and return the panel to its intact condition. “To do so properly, Whitaker explains, they must know which adhesives to use and the technique for keeping dust from accumulating in their samples.
Most students are returning to the classroom from workplaces. While Bell guarantees an interview with every graduate, not all intend to work there, Whitaker says. They take their aerospace composites skills to other industries such as to nearby Pantex, a Department of Energy (DOE) and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) plant where nuclear weapons are assembled and dismantled after they no longer are needed in the weapons arsenal, and some graduates work for Xcel Energy, an electric power company.
Amarillo College has graduated approximately 300 Bell employees over the past 11 years. New hires have a set routine in joining Bell’s workforce. Students earning their certificate in assembly are guaranteed an interview with the company.
Glen Phillips, Bell’s manager of employee training, said Bell considers the certificate the equivalent of a year of experience in aircraft assembly. He questions interviewees about their skills and knowledge in the process of drilling holes in composites, and about the consequences of delamination and how that flaw is detected.
Whitaker said the typical new worker will shadow a Bell employee for two weeks to learn specifics in both composite assembly and sheet metal assembly. With composites, he said, holes are first drilled with the proprietary carbide bits and then reamed to size.
For the next two weeks, the new hire is shadowed by the mentor before joining a regular crew.
To keep current with Bell’s practices and needs, Whitaker meets informally with Bell supervisors and adjusts the curriculum to account for new technologies and procedures as much as possible while staying within the college’s accreditation requirements.