Women in Aerospace & Manufacturing: Laura Hopkins

Laura Hopkins

Ever since she was four years old Laura Hopkins knew she loved flying and airplanes. Hopkins first flew on an airplane when her family moved to Japan in the 1970s. While in Japan, she attended a high school where girls were expected to take home economics classes and boys took auto mechanic classes. Hopkins knew she liked working with her hands and wanted to take auto mechanics instead. She spoke to school officials and convinced them to let her enroll in auto mechanics and was the first girl in her school to take these classes.

“Every time a plane [lands] if there is something wrong, you have to troubleshoot [and] figure out what’s missing and why… you then have to back track and figure out what is happening… for me, my favorite part is figuring out that puzzle.”

After high school, Hopkins attended college and received her Bachelor’s Degree. Hopkins then began working as a social worker but soon became frustrated with the system. While contemplating a different career path, Hopkins worked with a client who was one of the first female pilots as well as a part of the Women Air force Service Pilots (WASP) during WWII. Hopkins said “I was learning [about] all these stories from her and thought this is awesome…I want to go back to working with my hands.”

This lead Hopkins to leave her job and go back to school to earn her Aircraft mechanics license (Airframe & Powerplant [A&P] license). She was currently living in Pittsburgh and found a school nearby. “I went for a quarter and sure enough I liked working with my hands so the rest is history,” said Hopkins. It took Hopkins two years to finish school and soon after, she tested for her A&P license and passed. After receiving her license, Hopkins began her career at an experimental helicopter company that was developing a brand new composite helicopter. Here she worked as a lead mechanic working on composite layups, creating rigging, and helping run the office.

After some time, Hopkins landed a job at Boeing, in Everett, working as a flight line mechanic. As a Flight Line Mechanic, Hopkins worked on planes that were test flown. “Every time Boeing test flies an airplane, they write up problems that the airplane has. My job was then to figure out what the source of the problem is and fix it. It was great!” said Hopkins.

One day while working during the second shift Hopkins was presented the opportunity to translate for Japanese customers. Hopkins said “Someone had remembered something about me and Japan so then they brought me over and I translated and then my career changed dramatically.” Hopkins then worked in Customer Quality support where she worked with Japanese airlines, fixing problems as they arose and maintaining positive relationships with the airlines. During this time, Hopkins also was attending school for her Master’s Degree. Upon receiving her degree, Hopkins had hopes to give back to the world. She soon left her job at Boeing and starting working as a Dean at South Seattle Community College. Hopkins worked at the community college for many years until she left her job upon having a baby girl. A few years later in 2008, Hopkins was hired as the Executive Director of the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee (AJAC). In 2014, Hopkins moved on to start a consulting company.

One of Hopkins’ favorite things while working as an aircraft mechanic was troubleshooting. “Every time a plane [lands] if there is something wrong, you have to troubleshoot [and] figure out what’s missing and why… you then have to back track and figure out what is happening… for me, my favorite part is figuring out that puzzle,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins faced many obstacles while learning to become an aircraft mechanic. One of the many obstacles included working in a “man’s world” being that she was one of the only females learning to obtain her A&P license. However, one of her tactics of survival was to prove she knew what she was doing, and to fit in with the men. Hopkins said it is slowly becoming easier for women to join the trade industry, and it will keep evolving as long as women continue showing up. For women interested in aircraft mechanics, Hopkins says “It is not too complicated and it is fun… you get to go outside and use your hands…You get to strategize and figure things out. It is a really great job.”

To find out how you can become an apprentice and launch your career in aerospace or manufacturing, visit AJAC’s Get Started Section.