Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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A day in the life: Navigating the skies and tacking engines 

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In the vast number of professions, two seem to hold a common thread – the dynamic lives of a pilot and an automotive mechanic. While they seem to differ vastly from each other, both contribute significantly to the machines that keep our worlds moving. They even share common pages on the SIU website.  

The life of Elliot Dunn, an automotive technology student, begins at 6 a.m. 

“I go down to the dining hall and get breakfast and then go out to the airport,” Dunn said.  

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Dunn is a freshman pursuing a degree in automotive engineering. He is determined to become a skilled automotive professional and make significant contributions to the industry. 

“For the first 10 weeks I did have one class. It was automotive technology engines. So, I learned how to rip apart an engine and do all the measurements on it and that was one class. I got to work on my engine in that class. I got to fix it up,” Dunn said.  

Dunn now works with manual drive trains, specifically by disassembling transmissions and differentials for use in drive trains. 

“When I get there, I start at eight o’clock and then I go to 11:50 am and then my whole day is pretty much done from there. And then I go over to my work, I work at the SIU airplane mechanic shop too,” Dunn said.  

A day of work for Dunn consists of ripping apart panels and getting into the spark plugs on the planes. Then he goes out and test drives them.  

“I run them up, turn the engine on, get them on the full throttle or half throttle,” Dunn said, “So, it’s running them up, going to 1800 RPMs and then checking all the systems, checking the vacuum, the batteries and that’s pretty much it, I end at three, and that’s my whole day.”  

He said that he hasn’t taken many classes for his degree as a freshman. He mainly works his job that relates to his degree.  

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“Automotive credits work a little different. I have a 10-week course and then a 5-week course and that’s 10 to 9 credits. So it’s a lot of credit. Then I have one history class and Saluki Success, it fills in my schedule. I have 14 credits and on Wednesdays I have no classes, on Monday and Friday I only have one, and on Tuesday and Thursday I have two,” Dunn said. 

Dunn shares numerous stories about his experience as an automotive mechanic. 

“My favorite story was when I wasn’t out there, but it was doing a wheel bearing. I went to the Harbor Freight Parking Lot. It was supposed to be a three-hour job, and it turned into an eight-hour job,” Dunn said, “The wheel bearing didn’t want to move, so I had to drill out my wheel speed sensor and it still didn’t want to come out, so I had to drill it halfway out.” 

Dunn works closely with his friend, an aviation student at SIU, Donovan Pierce.  

“I’ll be on the ramp and I have my hand radio whenever I go onto the ramp. Sometimes I’ll hear him saying all his pilot stuff, his fancy stuff. I have zero idea what he’s saying, but it’s neat to hear,” Dunn said. 

Pierce is aspiring to become a pilot. The movie “Sully,” which was based on the plane that landed in the Hudson River, is one of his biggest inspirations. 

“That was interesting, and that is possible to do; that was deemed, most people deemed it impossible to do that, but a pilot managed to make it happen. It just shows how much dedication and skill some of the people in this profession have towards their job, and I want to reach that level someday.” Pierce said. 

In the field of aeronautics, Donovon Pierce wakes up to a world where the sky is not a limit but a canvas. 

“Originally, I would follow my dad’s footsteps in law enforcement. But, new laws started changing how that kind of profession worked and how it was. So, I ended up taking a discovery flight out at Poplar Grove Airport, near Rockford, Illinois, and that’s what got me into aviation and thinking about taking this pathway,” Pierce said. 

Pierce begins his day at 8 every morning with his first class starting at 9 a.m. and lasting an hour.  

“Then I’ll have a break for lunch, and then I must be at the airport at 1 p.m. At the airport is where I have my math class, so that’s nice,” Pierce said. 

He mentions that he has his flight theory class and the Aviation version of Saluki Success at the airport. 

His primary flight course is also located there, where he gains his flight hours and learns how to maneuver. As a result, the majority of his classes take place near or at the airport, which is convenient for him. 

“How the flight courses are laid out are planned out to be like a semester each. But it depends on how fast or slow you want to take it because it’s not a set timeline. You can take your flights as quickly or as slowly as you want within reason,” Pierce said.  

Balancing schoolwork and piloting can be challenging due to the different demands of each. While the school has a set schedule and clear expectations, piloting requires quick thinking and adaptability to changing conditions.

Additionally, the physical demands of piloting require a different kind of stamina. Both require discipline and hard work. 

“That’s about it for classes of the day, and then I usually save any homework or studying for the nighttime…I usually get back to my dorm about 5 to 5:30 p.m. Usually, when I get back, I’ll go to the dining hall for dinner and then I’ll go back in my room,” Pierce said. 

Pierce discusses his flight routine as a student pilot. 

“Usually each flight block you’ll have two students, and depending on which plane you choose to fly, you’ll each fly on different days. It also depends on the weather, weather is a very big key in it,” Pierce said. 

Pierce says a common challenge he has is learning the specifics of aviation where it’s not full on flying the plane itself but learning the ground tactics, like aerodynamics and critical rules like FAA regulations. Pierce hopes to learn how to be a pilot with his eyes closed and without the actual skill part.  

He has the most fun flying planes. 

“It was a nice day up today, so great views around the town. You get to see all the surrounding areas, especially the big, nice lakes are cool to look at when you’re flying over them,” Pierce said. 

Both the automotive mechanic and the pilot are united by a simple theme – the pursuit of excellence in their respective careers. Whether soaring through the skies or navigating the labyrinth of engines, both roles demand unwavering commitment, constant learning and a passion for the intricate machinery that propels our modern world forward. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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