Taking Flight


At Harlingen’s Texas State Technical College, two programs allow students to spread their wings while becoming aerospace industry experts.

TSTC offers airframe and powerplant programs that are designed by the Federal Aviation Administration. In four semesters, students in either of the programs will earn their associate degree while learning a diverse set of skills that TSTC aerospace educator Leo Guajardo has taught for six years.

“The airframe program focuses on structure, electronics, composite material, wood fabric, structural components, landing gear and inspection of the airframe,” Guajardo said. “The power plant side is more engine focused and is what actually propels the airframe through the sky. So it would be the engine, propeller, the turbine engines, the inspection maintenance, and the power plant side of the aircraft.”

In these two programs, students are tasked with learning how to perform a multitude of skills. Graduates can access numerous opportunities across the Rio Grande Valley. Aerospace mechanics from the airframe and powerplant programs can start their careers at local airports in McAllen, Brownsville, and Harlingen — and beyond, even in other industries.

“Some students go on to work outside of aviation here in the Valley. I’ve had students that have worked on powerlines, windmills, on different power plants, and more. Aviation mechanics has become so well rounded that they often times can get adopted into other fields,” said Guajardo, who teaches an assortment of courses, such as welding.

Although there are various careers available locally, Guajardo has seen a higher percentage of program alumni branch out into a larger pool of opportunity outside of the region.

“For the most part, those that get licensed and certificated leave the Valley,” he said. “The Valley is a great place, but the job opportunities can be a bit limited with not as many large, industrious airports.

“Some contract for the military in bases around the U.S.,” Guajardo added. “Some go into the commercial side and can work for airlines like Southwest and United. Other students go to work in places like Washington, D.C., San Francisco, or even Afghanistan for the military while working on military aircrafts and cutting edge technology, such as drones.”

Airframe and powerplant technicians are in high demand. Many program graduates have become highly distinguished technicians who secure influential careers, including those at SpaceX, a private U.S. space transit service and aerospace manufacturer.

“One of the coolest things that’s happening now is that I have students that have been hired at the McGregor SpaceX location, where they’re working on testing engines,” Guajardo said. “Currently, students are also applying to get in SpaceX Brownsville and I really think it will happen because on the SpaceX application — they specifically ask for airframe and powerplant mechanics.”

TSTC Harlingen’s aerospace programs offer a bright future for their graduates. Students receive hands-on training to enter a market brimming with opportunities both in and out of their field. The programs are something that Guajardo describes as an experience that you wouldn’t want to trade.

If you would like to have the full encounter of TSTC Harlingen’s aerospace programs and view aerospace components such as spaceships, helicopters, torn-down engines, and different types of aircrafts, contact aerospace instructor Leo Guajardo at (956) 364-4858. For more information on admissions, financial aid, and how to apply to the programs, visit tstc.edu