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TAFE NSW students work to restore historic military seaplane

written by Robert Dougherty | October 19, 2023

TAFE NSW students restoring a 1943 Catalina seaplane. (Image: TAFE NSW)

TAFE NSW students are taking part in the restoration of a 1943 Catalina seaplane to gain qualifications and attain the skills necessary to maintain Australia’s defence capabilities.

The eight students studying to pursue a career as structural aircraft maintenance engineers and working as apprentices at BAE Systems are on their way to completing a Certificate IV Aeroskills (Structures).

More than 4000 PBY Catalina ‘flying boat’ amphibious aircraft were produced in the 1930s and 1940s for use by the United States Armed Forces as maritime patrol bombers, search and rescue seaplanes, waterbombers, cargo transports, convoy escort and anti-submarine aircraft.

TAFE NSW aviation and aerospace instructor Mick Humphreys says students are learning crucial skills like disassembling an aircraft as well as how to inspect it and identify damage.

“These are important skills they need to know before they enter the workforce and work on planes that are as sophisticated as the F-35,” he said.


“We have several ex-military members in our TAFE NSW team who can impart the knowledge they have gained through their experience. We know what they will be working on and the experience they need – so we can prepare them for their future.”

Zachary Hanwright, 17, is the youngest TAFE NSW student currently in the Certificate IV Aeroskills (Structures) program. He says he enjoys taking the skills he is learning through his course and putting them into practice on a real plane.

“I really appreciate my teachers lining up these opportunities. It was a really engaging way to learn more about the structural elements of a plane and gain some hands-on training,” he said.

“My course is teaching me the skills I need for general aircraft maintenance. My Teacher, Mick also has experience working with F-35s in the Air Force, so he can pass on the knowledge he gained from his experience.”

“The work being done to maintain these F-35 planes is crucial to ensuring we have a strong fleet of defence aircraft. When I’m learning these skills I feel like I’m making a difference, as I know this is a really important job and that is a rewarding feeling.”

BAE Systems maintains and repairs the RAAF’s fleet of F-35 aircraft, and the company employs more than 350 people directly to support F-35 aircraft in Australia by 2025.

BAE Systems director of aerospace Andrew Chapman says its partnership with TAFE NSW is focused on building the organisations’ future capabilities, particularly in the Hunter region.

“Through the incredible TAFE NSW Newcastle training facilities, combined with our recently expanded Williamtown Precinct, we are cementing this region as Australia’s aerospace hub,” he said.

“Skilling our future generation is our priority, as this is crucial in our support for the fleet of F-35 aircraft.”

“We are currently recruiting for several roles in our trades streams in Mechanical, Avionics and Structures, so it’s an exciting time to be training in this industry.”

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