Some fly the big birds. Some, like Joseph Luke, make them fly.
Luke recently took a position with aviation maintenance firm AAR in Indianapolis. An Army National Guard specialist since 2009, he formerly served as a Navy structural mechanic, working on MH-60 Sierra helicopters. As a sheet-metal mechanic, he'll be doing much the same work he has performed in the past — only this time he'll be keeping commercial aircraft flying.
He describes aviation as a career unlike any other. "There is a lot more at risk if something goes wrong," he said. "So the amount of responsibility that is given to you — if they trust you that much, you've got to be doing something right."
Aircraft electrician, aviation operations specialist, avionic communications, equipment repairer — the list of military aviation specialties is quite lengthy. Here's how a few of those jobs translate:
Airplane or helicopter pilots can fly commercial passenger or freight aircraft.
Air traffic control managers can move into controller jobs in the civilian world.
Aircrew members and crew chiefs can work as civilian airport ground crew.
Military flight engineers are a natural fit under the same civilian title.
One of the largest manufacturers of commercial jetliners and military aircraft in the world, Boeing has a career track for just about every skill.
"We have every job that you can possibly think of in this country — logistics, security, health care, translation, IT work — Boeing has a need for it," said HR Manager Chris Hicks. The company employs 170,000 people, of whom 16 percent are veterans. "The aviation world is a lot more than just airplanes and pilots."
In aircraft manufacturing, collars may run white or blue. In management, workers with aerospace or technical backgrounds may oversee operations and direct the efforts of engineers. Engineers design and test aircraft, while production occupations, which make up a third of aviation manufacturing jobs, may include machinists, machine tool operators and skilled metalworkers.
The U.S. government can put you to work in aviation through a number of agencies, including the National Transportation Safety Board, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration, among others.
Parlay your security expertise as an air marshal. You'll fly commercial aircraft incognito, working alone and armed, as you watch for potential terrorist activity.
As one of about 6,800 air traffic controllers, you'll give pilots instructions and advice regarding their flight paths. These professionals tend to work long shifts, carefully tracking the movements of multiple aircraft in the air.
Aviation safety inspectors devote their attentions not just to aircraft but also to manufacturing plants and facilities, to ensure proper quality control and consistent processes. Ultimately, they ensure the airworthiness of whatever flies.
At the airport
You have to take off your shoes. They've cut back on the food and the oxygen, and yet the passengers keep going back for more. Commercial airlines continue flying, and they keep creating new jobs.
In the plane: Flight attendants perform important safety and security roles while interacting with a diverse range of travelers. As "the most highly visible employees to our customers," Continental Airlines wants a mix of skills that may resonate with veterans: dependability, ability to handle pressure in stressful situations, physical agility and strength.
In the hangar: Mechanical jobs run the gamut, from those who tighten bolts to those who keep the aircraft clean. Engineers, quality control, and maintenance managers all play a role.
On the phone: Jobs includes reservations agents and customer service representatives. The downside: No one calls customer service because they're in a good mood. The upside: It could be fun, at least according to Southwest Airlines, whose career site offers a "Fun-LUVing, family-oriented environment focused on providing Positively Outrageous Service." Also, flexible hours are a plus.
In the cockpit
In addition to the traditional commercial airline jobs, pilots may guide regional and commuter aircraft or work as flight instructors. Some fly corporate jets, some work the agricultural circuit, and others head up charter flights.
Flying is relatively routine work, except when it isn't. A smooth flight will present few surprises, while strong wind or other rough weather can have a pilot white-knuckling it all the way to touchdown.
You'll be traveling a lot, of course. The Air Line Pilots Association says pilots spend approximately 360 hours a month away from home, on account of overnight layovers. And there are other hazards, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Test pilots in experimental planes run risks, and crop dusters face possible exposure to toxic chemicals.
There were 116,000 civilian aircraft pilots and flight engineers in the U.S. in 2008, the year of the last BLS count, and employment growth remains steady. Median annual wages of airline pilots, co-pilots and flight engineers were $111,680 in 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $81,580 and $150,480.
Sources: Military.net, GoArmy.com, Today's Military, AVJobs.com, AOL Jobs, Experimental Aircraft Association, BLS