Here are some great reasons to pursue an Airborne Sensor Operations job and career:
The Pay – If you’re looking for a great opportunity for fresh out of high school, technical or trade school, an undergraduate or graduate program, second career, and military transition, there is very likely a flavor of Airborne Sensor Operations that is right for you! The field, and therefor pay and benefits is greatly varied, however, you can anywhere from a livable wage (at a minimum) to 6 figures depending on what you bring to the table, and what your risk tolerance is. I will say, if you’re in it mostly for the cash, then you will likely be disappointed. This mentality and others will show through eventually in the profession that is both demanding and team driven, and you’ll likely not hit this success criteria if it is your primary motivator.
The Intrigue – Most people, at the minimum understand that you can put a camera on an aircraft, or in space, or on a boat, and these days a drone, to collect information, or at least a picture. You will be on the forefront of data collection, and the genius of hopefully important and valuable information. It may be something that most people are not familiar with these days you can point to Google Earth, and say you do something similar, or talk about the aircraft that spot hotspots for fire fighting efforts. Unless your acquaintances have lived under a rock for the last 20 years, you can relate your work to them. Also, many of us, cannot talk about work, so if you like to keep things short and mysterious, there’s a ASO job for that!
For the Pride – Airborne Sensor Operations are nearly never an end-in-themselves, there is a reason, and usually a pertinent, timely, and valuable demand is driving the requirement to get information. Rarely mindless, always relevant; there is a true satisfaction to understand the work would you do have value, sometimes economic, sometimes tactical, sometimes strategic, but again always valuable.
For the Schedule – The bane and beauty of most ASO work is the time on/time off schedule. The job is typically demanding, and employers are often balancing either have too many staff with the risk of having some sit out unpaid or having to little and countering attrition. Lots of firms will schedule week on/week off, or when OCONUS, 6 months onsite, then name your time to return. For those looking for high investment in you, a year in, year out schedule may look like one month on, one week off. The firms that will work with you on an individual level or have so strict of policies that both mutually benefit (cost) and lose (opportunity) in step with one another, can be the easiest to work scheduling with. Look for a firm that values resources, your time, and their own time, and you will be set up for a winning opportunity. Think travel, fishing, hiking, exploring, additional training and education, and side hustles, ASO schedules can enable these schedules.
The Travel – There are a few services related, and business-related fields that can support regular, regional, national, and global travel. Almost no other profession will couple travel with time on/time off scheduling for you to take advantage of where you are. Company paid travel can be one of the great beauties to ASO employment. Most firms will allow you to save yourself money by piggy-backing on your work travels and using that as a launching point for your own personal exploration and travel. You’ll typically be paid to go to the work, to the bird, that’s waiting for you.
The Complexity and Challenge – Airborne Sensor Operations are always evolving and are notoriously challenging for a variety of reasons. Let it be said, if you are looking for simple work, someone is looking to automate that work and your place in it. Airborne Sensor Operations both embraces the complexity involved with a variety of situations, with an aircraft or platform that has its own eccentricities, with a demand that must be met, typically for stakeholders that need it NOW! Dealing with these challenges, doing this job, will make you a better resource and person for it.
The Enabling Perspective – There are few professions that touch on so many others and have a state of excellence within them. As an ASO, you can develop skills in operations, negotiations, project management, aviation, and a variety of engineering disciplines. Are you an engineering student that does not know which way to jump into a tighter discipline, come into the field with sensors and instrumentation that leverage mechanical, electrical, optical, electro-optical, aeronautical, thermodynamic, damage tolerance, human-machine interfacing, software and control engineering, and many more disciplines. Are you an intel professional that wants to understand source data? A GIS grad that wants some adventure before you take the desk job? How about international affairs that what’s to travel? How about a veteran looking for great work and previous experience, at lower risk? The beauty of ASO as a career choice is that there are many points of entry, many flavors of employment, and usually something for everyone.
Author: Mark Smits, PMP, CGP-G, Geospatial Program Director