Welder Stories: Unsung Heroes of Erickson

Every company has humble, yet resilient employees behind the scenes: Meet Erickson’s Aircraft Welders

By Joe Mattos, Senior Sales Manager, OEM

A Welder’s job is typically one that’s not glorified on the internet or talked about by the media; but it is one of great significance. Welders are the people who make the products we use and work with every day. Welding is a profession that will always be needed – if there’s a piece of metal that needs to be joined to another piece of metal for something to work correctly.

A Welder is a skilled individual who operates the equipment that uses heat to join metal parts together, and in the aerospace industry, this means they work on manufacturing parts and products from various types of aircraft.

Three welders at Erickson, with over 65 years of combined experience, took some time to share their stories of working around the clock with only a moment’s notice to get the job done.

Don Vanderford’s primary job at Erickson is a machinist in the Overhaul Shop. He is also an experienced aircraft welder and has been with the company for 21 years. He holds a variety of different certifications, ranging from: D17.1 Aviation Welding to 30 different certifications for Pratt & Whitney to a professional certification with the American Welding Society (AWS). In addition to Don working full-time as a machinist, he also shares in an on-call rotation of two weeks on and two weeks off to support any aircraft welding needs in the field.

2021 was one of the most challenging of his career as it caused him intense international travel for urgent projects. Vanderford stated, “In August 2021, I was called to go to Italy to perform some repairs on three Air Crane helicopters owned by Vigili del Fuoco that Erickson supports. ”After working in Italy for one week, I received a call to go to Greece to perform welding repairs on the Erickson owned Air Crane helicopters that were in country fighting fires.”

While working in Greece for ten days on the welding repairs, Vanderford was notified that he was needed in South Korea for another job. With Vanderford’s get-it-done attitude, he was ready to head straight to South Korea after completing his work in Greece, however, Erickson suggested he return home for a couple of weeks before heading to his next job.

Jon Baker, a full-time Aviation Welder at Erickson, has been with the company just shy of 20 years. Baker’s role is primarily in welding, shot peen, plasma, and stress relief. He also holds similar certifications to his colleague Don Vanderford, which include: D17.1 Aviation Welding, 30 different Pratt & Whitney certifications, and a professional certification with the AWS. Baker is also in the on-call rotation with Don, two weeks on, two weeks off – this is in addition to his regular in-the-shop work schedule.

When asked what Baker’s most challenging welding project was, he shared, “the time he got a call to go to Manitoba, Canada where it’s 50 below zero.” Baker went to the Medford Airport to hop on a charter plane, seven hours later he arrived in Manitoba, Canada to find a car waiting for him at the airport to take him on a three-hour drive to Dauphin. He arrived at the job site around 2:00 a.m. Including prep time and repair time, Baker completed the job at 7:00 a.m., in just five hours’ time. The same car was there waiting to take him back to the charter plane in Manitoba to fly seven hours back to Medford, arriving approximately 24 hours after he originally departed.

Evan Robinson is another Erickson Aviation Welder with 28 years at Erickson. Robinson holds the same certifications as Baker and Vanderford, with an additional Powerplant certification under his belt. Robinson has spent most of his career answering calls to go out in the field and perform welding repairs, as both an aircraft mechanic and welder. With Robinson being employed at Erickson for nearly 2/3 of the company’s time in operation, he had some interesting and challenging stories to share.

“On Labor Day weekend, I got a call to go to Gold River, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada on the west coast of Vancouver Island.” Robinson had to drive 21 hours, taking breaks along the way for food and rest, to Gold River with three monstrously large main rotor blades at 29′ long and weighing 350 lbs each and numerous other parts on a flatbed.

Robinson said, “After arriving, (I) slept for about four hours and then started the repair of a crack on a free turbine case. This was the biggest crack I’ve ever fixed on a free turbine. It took about five hours in the middle of the night to complete the repair so the aircraft could continue logging the next morning.” The next day Robinson met with Canadian Air-Crane to bring a load of blades and parts back to Erickson’s home base in Central Point, Oregon.

A typical day at Erickson is not so typical for individuals like Vanderford, Baker, and Robinson. A project can come up in the middle of the night and need immediate attention – and that’s where these unsung heroes fly in to save the day.