It's pretty natural, when you think of jobs in the Air Force, to assume everyone's out there either flying or fixing planes. But planes can't be kept running on the flight line through sheer willpower: Aircraft maintainers have their tools, and those tools, too, must have their own maintainers.
Enter aerospace ground equipment (AGE) technicians, flying (figuratively, of course) under the motto, "No air power without ground power."
Duties and Responsibilities
"Without AGE equipment, our planes would be nothing more than paperweights," is the Air Force recruiting website's artful summary of this career field's importance. AGE techs are mechanics and electricians charged with maintaining the equipment used on the ground to keep planes in tip-top shape, including "generator sets, air conditioners, hydraulic test stands, air compressors, bomb lifts, [and] heaters."
A high school diploma is necessary to get into the Air Force, but the ideal candidate for AGE technician school will specifically have a background in science and industrial arts courses, according to the Air Force Enlisted Classification Manual (PDF.) The Air Force site also recommends a future AGE technician is probably someone interested in electronics, mechanics, and computer science.
Before shipping off to boot camp, of course, potential enlistees take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB.) To get into the AGE field, you'll need to score at least 47 in the Air Force's mechanical aptitude category and 28 in electronics aptitude. (Mechanical aptitude tallies the ASVAB's general science, mechanical comprehension, and auto/shop sections while electronics aptitude considers your performance in general science, arithmetic reasoning, mathematics knowledge, and electronics information combined.)
AGE technicians also need to demonstrate normal color vision during an entry physical, due to all the Christmas-tree colored wires they have to work with.
Assuming you're a big tough smarty-pants, you can expect your career as an AGE technician to begin with a rough total of five months in training. That begins, of course, with eight weeks of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
Then comes about three months (95 days) of technical school with the "Hellcats" at the 361st Training Squadron at Sheppard Air Force Base, also conveniently in Texas. (Enjoy some barbeque while you're there, though I have no idea if it's as good in the mess hall as out in town.) According to a 2010 public affairs piece by Airman 1st Class Adawn Kelsey, there are 17 phases in the AGE course, beginning with basic electronics theory and moving on to "work with about 12 different types of equipment throughout the course."
The Air Force recruiting website claims their AGE technician course is worth 36 college credits toward studies in aerospace ground equipment technology, but I advise against getting your hopes up that high. Schools may offer equivalency for military training, but 36 is a pretty ambitious number for a three-month course, especially compared to what's normally recommended by the American Council on Education (ACE) Military Guide for entry-level training. Of course, ACE conveniently has no listing for the AGE apprentice course, so take this all as well-meaning speculation.
Certifications and Career Outlook
The Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) Credentialing and Education Research Tool (CERT) recommends a few national professional certifications that may incorporate and enhance AGE technicians' skills:
- Refrigerant Reclamation Technician
- Certified Manager
- Certified Aerospace Technician
There's no mention over at CCAF about Air Force funding for any of these programs, although the certifying agencies might allow some Air Force training and experience to help fulfill license requirements. CCAF also offers an associate degree program for AGE technology.
CCAF also advises airmen in the AGE field that their closest equivalent career path after returning to the civilian world is installing and repairing heating, air conditioning, and/or refrigeration equipment. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics claims the field commanded a median annual salary of $45,540 in 2018, and projects it will grow "[m]uch faster than average" through 2020.