Editor's note: Registration for this event is now closed.
In the past, those heading into behind-the-scenes flight careers such as simulator technicians typically came from the military, an avenue to valuable employment without a four-year degree.
Today, there's a shortage of people coming into the field, one on par with many industries facing retirements in the next decade.
That's according to DeMarco Best, a flight simulator engineer/duty manager for Alaska Airlines. He served nearly four years in the Air Force as a digital navigational and tactical training device specialist.
"A lot of people think of the plane in the airport and don't think of the infrastructure, and part of that is pilot training," Best told The News Tribune in a recent interview. "I tell the kids I work on a $15 million video game, but it's not a toy."
Best, who lives in South Tacoma, will be promoting the work he does on Saturday (May 5) as part of Aviation Day at Alaska Airlines Flight Operations Training Center, 2350 S. 190th St., SeaTac.
The event, staffed by Alaska employee volunteers, promotes aviation careers through workshops, demonstrations and behind-the scenes tours, among other activities, and typically draws 2,000 teens.
At Alaska, pilots train each other, but Best makes sure their simulator and equipment is in top form.
Gone are the days of computer boards and soldering. Flight simulation engineer jobs now are more in line with those of software engineers.
During Aviation Day, Best will take students to a 737 simulator and explain how it works. He'll also head up the robot wars put on by high school robotics teams.
He sees Aviation Day as a valuable tool for making a lasting impression on kids trying to decide what they want to do after high school. Best recalls touring John F. Kennedy International Airport when he was in sixth grade.
"I saw the engines and walked into the simulator, and I just remembered it was something fun," he said.
"You know, kids today have all the world's information at their fingertips, but it's not reality until they can touch and see something with their own eyes. That's more of a motivator than anything on the internet."
While registration has closed for this year’s event, Alaska partners with a number of organizations that offer year-round programs for students interested in exploring aviation further. For more information, go to www.alaskaair-aviationday.org