Working as a landscaper for his current employer was the precursor to a career in aviation.
After graduating from California State University in Chico, Robert Baumgartner returned to his hometown of Red Bluff, California—also home to PJ Helicopters—and began work as a landscaper at the company.
“I didn’t have a clue about wanting a career in aviation,” Baumgartner says.
As he tended the grounds, he looked up and saw the company’s helicopters flying various operations, including aerial surveillance, search-and-rescue, and aerial photography, among others. “These are just beautiful machines,” Baumgartner thought to himself.
One day, PJ Helicopters had an opening for an aviation maintenance apprentice, and Baumgartner jumped at the opportunity. Now 24 years old, Baumgartner works as an aviation mechanic on PJ Helicopters’ Bell 407s. He says he loves his job and is looking forward to a long career maintaining helicopters at the company.
To support the continuation of that career, in 2022 Baumgartner won a Bill Sanderson Aviation Maintenance Technician (AMT) Scholarship, which includes a two-week training program at MD Helicopters in Mesa, Arizona. “So, with us having a few MD helicopters at PJ’s, the scholarship is going to provide a lot of knowledge to me that I can pass on to others here as well,” he says.
Words of Wisdom to Wannabes
Baumgartner is encouraging when asked what advice he would give others considering a career in aviation maintenance. “Come to work every day a little bit early and soak in all the knowledge you can get,” he says. “If you work hard, you get yourself in a mindset where you know you want to succeed and you’ve just got to push for it.”
And always be open to learning, he adds, noting that listening to stories in the company break room from veteran aviation techs gave him key insights. “I was just lucky enough to get in at a good company and have a lot of good guys around me who feed that fire I feel for my work.”
Baumgartner says the most important part of his job is safety. “Aviation is very, very rewarding and also very terrifying. The rewarding part of my job is having a helicopter come in safely,” he says. “I do the inspection. I do whatever needs to be done—even the small stuff. Then, the helicopter lifts off the ground, and I say a little prayer.”
Key to safety success, Baumgartner says, is a safety culture, which he calls “huge,” adding that it’s “a massive deal in aviation. There’s never a point where you should be an ‘I-know-everything’ kind of person. I ground myself constantly and believe in being humble.
“This is somebody’s life on this helicopter after I do my maintenance on it. In a split second, it can come down. So being humble is my biggest piece of advice.”