Across the Generations at Continental Aerospace Technologies

Aviation is an industry for family legacies.

Continental currently has 45 people either working alongside family members or following in their footsteps. [Courtesy: Continental Aerospace Technologies]

The aviation industry is an interesting institution. In my experience, it is welcoming to newcomers, even those who don’t know what they’re doing (like me when I first poked my head into a flight school not knowing an aileron from an antenna). It is also a space with a rich history, often fostering family legacies that extend well beyond a single generation.

One place where this is apparent is Continental Aerospace Technologies. The aircraft engine manufacturer currently has 45 team members of the 330 it employs in the U.S. who are either working alongside a family member or have a family member who used to work at the company. The ties are eclectic with siblings, cousins, parents, and grandparents paving the way for the next generation of employees.

Two Brothers

Jorge Alfaro is a welder fabricator in Continental’s experimental department. He joined the company in 2017 when long-time family friend Pernell Wagner, currently a value stream leader at Continental, shared a job opening. Alfaro was working outside the aerospace industry at the time but had been looking for an opportunity where he could grow his skills. The position with the company’s research and development department fit the bill and he has been with Continental ever since.

In May 2022, his younger brother Josh joined the team. According to Jorge, Josh saw the long-term career path that he had been developing and realized he was interested in pursuing a similar one for himself. With some advice from his big brother to “come in with confidence, to keep his head up high, and to give his all every day instilling pride in his work,” Josh secured a position pulling and preparing engine parts for assembly and shipping.

“It makes me feel good to be his big brother,” Jorge said. “I help keep him accountable and can guide him through his professional journey at Continental. I’m proud to show him what it means to be a good leader and great fellow team member.”

The two have yet to work together on a project but are hoping to sometime in the future.

A Father’s Legacy

Dana Durden applied for her position as a customer service representative with a focus on aftermarket engines and warranties on the advice of her cousin, Lori Stanley. Stanley, herself an OEM customer representative on Continental’s customer service team, thought Durden would be a good fit for the role when the company was looking to expand its customer facing support group in 2019.

Durden says joining Continental was nostalgic for her. Her father, Harold Ratliff, had worked for the company from around 1970 until his retirement in the early 2000s. Ratliff took on many roles over the years, serving longest as supervisor of the crankcase line. He passed away before Durden joined Continental.

“It’s fun to be recognized around the facility as Harold’s daughter and that’s usually when they start to share a funny memory about their dad or family member working with my dad,” said Durden. “It really fills me with a sense of pride and thrills me to know that he would have been proud to pass on his Continental legacy to me. He was very proud to have worked for Continental for more than 35 years. Just think of how many engines he touched that are a part of someone’s flying story.”

Three Generations

Tom Howard, who works as a quality team member inspecting engines prior to shipment, represents the third generation of his family to work at Continental. Howard’s grandfather, V.A. Howard, retired from the company in the 1980s. His father, Tom Howard Sr., joined Continental in the 1970s and retired in 2006. V.A. worked as an inspector, mainly for cylinders and the Tiara engine line, while Tom Sr. began with machining parts and went on to become a shop supervisor.

Before Howard joined Continental, Tom Sr. encouraged him to take a machinist course along with teaching him to use hand tools, power tools, reading calipers, and scales. After hearing about the company from his family for years, Howard said, he decided to apply for a job with Continental. Once he’d gotten the position, his father and grandfather told him to “watch and learn, make sure you know the process and product. With this knowledge and a good work ethic you can become a true asset to the team.”

“I remember this one time [my Dad] pushed me to my limit,” Howard said. “I was asked to work on three machines that were down and I had never run them before. It took six days to get them running a blueprint part. There were times in the process that I had gotten ahead of myself and had to back track, but no one ever rushed me or discounted my ability. It taught me that anything done right was worth the effort, to think things through, and that not every idea is the best one for that situation. Some things just don’t work like you think they will but the reward and pride is worth it all.”

Howard emphasized that he takes pride and ownership in the company three generations of his family has worked for. “…as a third generational employee,” he said, “I have a certain outlook on what an employee should do based on the examples of my family and how the company should operate.”

About Continental

Founded in 1905 as Continental Motors, Continental Aerospace Technologies has been making engines for piston aircraft for over 115 years. In 1966, the company moved from its original location in Muskegon, Michigan to Alabama’s Mobile International Airport (KBFM) where it still operates today. While some of the buildings from the 1960s are still in use, Continental recently opened a new facility adjacent to its original location at KBFM.

Continental manufactures engines for both the certified and experimental markets. Among its products are the jet-A burning CD series, avgas powered 200, 360, 470, and 500 series, and Titan experimental series.

Kate O’Connor is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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