Swanton, Ohio --
Amelia Earhart once said, “Some of us have great runways already built for us. If you have one, take off. But if you don’t have one, realize it is your responsibility to grab a shovel and build one for yourself and for those who will follow after you.”
That is exactly what Senior Airman Haelie Egbert is doing, paving a runway that would allow her to take off to a bright future for herself and those women and young girls with dreams of taking flight into the aviation industry.
Egbert, an aerospace propulsion technician assigned to the Ohio Air National Guard’s 180th Fighter Wing, Swanton, Ohio, and a mechanical engineering student at The Ohio State University, enlisted in 2015 to provide herself with an education and a skillset that would set her apart from others.
“Not only did I want to have an experience that would set me apart from many of my colleagues,” said Egbert. “As a mechanical engineering major, the idea of being able to completely take apart such a complex system and put it back together really appealed to me.”
Though her family has a long tradition of military service and she was armed with love and support from her family as she set her course to the future, not everyone was as supportive.
“The true deciding factor to enlist is my unwillingness to take no for an answer,” Egbert said. “When you’re trying to find your way through the process, people will give you their beliefs and opinions, and not all will be supportive.”
Turning the negative into a positive, she refused to let those opinions sway her decision to join the ranks of the less than one percent of U.S. population serving in America’s Armed Forces.
“I used it as fuel,” said Egbert. “Fuel to figure out what was best for me, fuel to have the courage to act and fuel to exceed the expectations and prove those opinions wrong.”
Now, nearly four years into her military service, Egbert says she wouldn’t change her decision to enlist.
“Like many jobs, there are good days and bad days,” Egbert said. “It’s after the work is done and you’ve washed as much grease off of your hands as you can that you realize there really is no other job like it in the world.”
Aerospace propulsion technicians are integral to the flying mission and are responsible for maintaining, troubleshooting and repairing the nine primary components and more than 5,000 pieces that make up the more than 3,000 pound turbofan engine, either when installed or removed from a jet. Basic understanding of how the aircraft, starter and engine work together as a system is also a necessity to successfully maintaining the engines.
Her role as an F-16 jet engine mechanic is to maintain the wing’s Pratt & Whitney 229 engines through time-sensitive inspections, repairs and test runs, providing the highest quality engines for the mission, while ensuring the safety of pilots.
“We do our job with the highest level of discipline and attention to detail to ensure everything is done right,” Egbert said. “With a single-engine fighter jet, we are held to high standards to ensure the pilot’s safety.”
“If there were no jet engine mechanics, the jets would not fly,” Egbert said. “Plain and simple.”
"It takes a rare and unique person to be able to disassemble and assemble and test a piece of machinery that forces the travel of an Aircraft to 1,500 miles per hour," said Senior Master Sgt. John VanHorn, 180th Fighter Wing Propulsion Element Supervisor. "It has to be built with the precision of a Swiss watch and contain no maintenance flaws, because there is only one engine in the F16---It has to be perfect every time."
While the job comes with a high level of responsibility and requires significant discipline, it also comes with reward of seeing how the hard work directly contributes to success of the mission.
“My favorite part of the job is performing engine runs,” said Egbert. “Whether installed in the jet or removed and mounted on the test stand, it provides you with a high level of satisfaction knowing that your hard work played a part in breathing life back into that engine. Especially when you are on the floor next to that engine as its running, knowing that very few people get to stand next to something so powerful makes it very rewarding.”
Outside of her military duties, Egbert continues to expand her aviation knowledge through her studies in mechanical engineering, while also earning a minor in security and intelligence, at The Ohio State University through aviation related internships.
Her first internship allowed her to participate in a study, observing how air flow passes over a Chinook helicopter’s rotor blades during flight.
Currently, in her civilian job, the university is working with Pratt & Whitney to study bending stress and fatigue on various gears used in the company’s engines.
Now, in her junior year, Egbert plans to continue her education to earn a master’s in mechanical engineering before pursuing a career in the national security and defense field, while also working toward a commissioning opportunity in the Air National Guard.
“I get asked a lot if I plan to make a career out of the military,” said Egbert. “It’s when you get home and finally take your boots off that you realize you are a part of something much bigger than you. I’m not ready to come home and take my boots off for good. I’d like to stay in as long as I am able to.”
"With her Engineering book savvy and understanding of physics, calculus, thermo, material science, etc., she can see and apply thought processes toward a perfect engine, either through exact assembly or aggressive troubleshooting, with her problem solving mind," said VanHorn. "With her solid Engineering mind and very good mechanical abilities, she is simply the very best of those we like to see working in the Propulsion field. I expect upon graduation from Ohio States Engineering program that she will have a very promising future."
As Egbert continues to pave the runway to her future, leaving a trail for other women and young girls interested in the aviation field, she reminds herself and others to dream big.
“There is no dream too big, no idea too outrageous and no goal too far out of reach,” Egbert said. “Set your limits high and have the courage to pursue them. Follow your passion, set your goals and execute your plan to get there.”