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Class of ’85

Aviation inspections take alum around world

Staff writer

Jay Sandwell “fell into” a job in the Air Force after high school, which led to 11 trips to Antarctica, worldwide travel, and teaming up with NASA.

When Sandwell joined the Air Force he thought he would learn to repair radios and other electronics.

“I’d come back after four years, get the band back together, and we’d live happily ever after there in Marion,” he said. “Life has a funny way of changing things for you.”

He started working with navigational aids soon after graduating high school in 1985.

Sandwell now has done flight inspections for the Federal Aviation Association since 2005. He reads an electronic signal from the back of a plane to let buildings know if they are visible to pilots. He did the same job in the Air Force for the eight years prior.

“It’s been a while,” he said, laughing. “You just blink and 20 years go by.”

His trips to Antarctica are another matter.

McCurdo Station is on a permanent ice pack, but shifts in the ice mean inspections need to be done every October.

“It really helps to believe in what you’re doing and know you’re making a difference,” he said. “There are difficult times just like any other job, but overall there’s a really great satisfaction.”

In addition to travel, Sandwell’s job has included cutting-edge projects. He is part of a group collaborating with NASA on an urban air mobility project, working to create a form of flying taxi.

“It’s just something else I kind of stumbled into,” he said. “It’s going to be pretty neat. There’s just so much work to be done to make it all safe.”

The program has seen companies from Uber to Airbus working toward the goal.

Sandwell’s career was not one he expected when struggling through high school math.

“I think Rex Wilson, the math teacher in high school, would be surprised to know that the guy who could barely make it through algebra one uses geometry every day,” he said.

In addition to feeling fulfilled, Sandwell enjoys that his job keeps him moving around, though he guesses New Zealand is his favorite destination.

“They are just the most wonderful people,” he said. “I really enjoy New Zealand and the people there.”

Of the 70-plus countries Sandwell has visited, a majority are thanks to his job doing inspections.

As many adventures as Sandwell has been on, he never has any question where home is.

“I’ve lived in Moore, Oklahoma, and we’ve lived down here in Newcastle over 20 years,” he said. “It’s never going to be my hometown. My hometown always is going to be up there in Marion. It’s hard to describe.”

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Jay Sandwell

Last modified Sept. 23, 2020

 

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