Corporal Christopher Vaughan is a Class 1 Avionics Technician of 73 Aviation Company, 7 Air Assault Battalion REME, and is currently in the process of becoming professionally registered as an EngTech.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
My father spent 35 years as a pilot in the Army Air Corps, so I grew up living with helicopters. I joined the Army in 2003 when I was 20. I went to college, and worked for two years before joining up.
What does your job entail?
There are two types of technician in REME: one type works on airframes and engines, the other on avionics, working with electronics and weapons systems. I am a Class 1 Avionics Technician. In my current role, I work on the inspection and correction of faults. When an aircraft is ready to fly again, it is necessary to test radios, weapons and technical systems.
Primarily, I work on the Apache, and the avionics on this helicopter are the very latest on any British Army aircraft. It is very advanced in terms of the weapons and sighting systems. Essentially, it is a flying tank: its weapon systems are its unique feature and it is very effective.
What training do you need to do your job?
After I joined the Army in 2003, I undertook phase two training, which took two years. I then came to Wattisham to do further training (Class 3), and was supervised, and went through a series of tests before I was then authorised to sign off work. I spent four years as a Class 2 technician, then after a year long course, I became a Class 1 technician, and so now I can supervise the work of others.
Every bit of your training is giving you the rigour, expert knowledge, experience and skills you need to be able to examine accurately and sign off the work of other technicians, ensuring the safety and airworthiness of our Army aircraft at all times. If you consider that foundation training for a REME soldier takes in basic maths, technical drawing and metal work, before you go onto the technical foundation training in maths and physics. From there you go into airframes/engines or avionics, and on that latter side, you start off learning the basics of electronics, transistors and computer programming, and then completing a project on building an electrical system.
You progress to the next phase of training which is looking at how avionics systems work, and working on radios, flight control and radar, for example, with a series of tests where your fault finding abilities and skills are thoroughly and rigorously examined. At the end, you have your final trade test, in which you have to demonstrate your ability to undertake all the necessary safety checks and follow procedure to the letter. This is just to become a Class 3 technician.
As a Class 3, you would come here to Wattisham, and work with Class 1 and Class 2 technicians, learning from them, and being supervised by them, being trained all the time on things like the technical library, tool library, how systems work and integrate. You are tested on flight competency and other tests which demonstrate your enhanced learning and skills. If you pass your tests successfully, you become a Class 2 technician; you do that role for a few years to build up your experience and then you do more training and tests to become a Class 1.
Safety is paramount because if a helicopter breaks down, it falls out of the sky. As my dad is a helicopter pilot himself, potentially, I could be servicing a helicopter that my dad flies, so this really brings home to me the importance of checking everything and ensuring an aircraft is safe and airworthy.
What has been your proudest achievement in your career?
I went to Afghanistan in 2009. I was extremely busy when I was out there, and I really enjoyed the work, because you are entirely focused on your role and doing a good job, and there are no distractions – and everything is set up to enable you to do your job to the very best of your ability. You are literally just there to do your job; you see the helicopters flying out that you look after, and you know that you are helping the guys on the ground. It’s hard work, but you have a real sense of achievement.
Each morning, we got a daily report on progress, and it was good to know that we are helping people. The pilots were always grateful to us when we were there. There had to be trust between us, and each had an admiration for what the other one does.
In many ways, being on operational duty was pure engineering: we were just there to service the aircraft. Everything had to be turned round quickly, so we had to think on our feet and fast, and had to know our systems inside out so that we could diagnose problems and fix them fast.
Is professional registration important to you in your career now?
I had never heard of professional registration until I attended a briefing at the education centre. Being able to get formal recognition for all the hard work and training I have put into my career is attractive. For my role in the Army now, or if ever I have to leave the Army in the future, professional registration shows that I have demonstrated my commitment to the profession. Having independently verified professional registration status would help me to stand out from the crowd if I ever went for a job interview.
Membership of a professional engineering institution gives me access to careers advice, job fairs and technical events – all of which will be useful in the future. Potentially, I have 15 more years to serve in the Army, and I am currently secure in my role, so for me at this point in my working life, professional registration is about helping to enhance my Army career.