A Rare Tour of United's San Francisco Aircraft Maintenance Base With ‘Chix Fix' All-Female Mechanics Team

In honor of San Francisco Fleet Week, the competitive technicians' team came to United's Family Day to show young women that careers in aviation aren't just for men

What to Know

  • United employs some 14,000 people at San Francisco International, including many at its aircraft maintenance facility
  • Chix Fix is United's all-female entry into the Aerospace Maintenance Competition — the Olympics of aircraft maintenance
  • The members of Chix Fix came from all over the country, and want to encourage more women to get into aviation

Fleet Week is all about ships and airplanes, including the rare chance to board visiting Navy vessels — and in this case, an equally rare chance to see inside the facilities where United Airlines maintains its fleet at San Francisco International Airport.

United employs some 14,000 people in the Bay Area, including more than 2,000 at the SFO maintenance facility, which works around the clock to inspect and upgrade planes in a sprawling array of hangars just north of the airport.

It's a well-known fact in the industry that among those thousands of employees, the vast majority are men. A group of United maintenance technicians called Chix Fix is hoping to change that.[[496324581, C]]

The group formed to compete as the first all-female commercial airline team in the Aerospace Maintenance Competition — a contest in April that could be called the aircraft technician Olympics.

"The six women that were technicians came from all over the US," said Bonnie Turner, who manages aircraft repair and overhaul for United at SFO. "(They) had never met each other before, they came together just through training, bonded and formed a phenomenal team."[[496323261, C]]

The bond came after a brief moment of hesitation for technician Janelle Bendt, who said she's "the shy one." Having worked her whole career with teams of almost entirely men, she said she didn't quite know how to act in a hangar full of women.

"All of us you could see, sizing each other up," Bendt said. "We started talking, and boom, that was out the door. We all just got along right away after that."

The members of Chix Fix hope to spread the word to young women that aircraft maintenance is a great career for people of all genders. 

Check out this 360 view from inside the wheel well of a Boeing 737 at United’s SFO maintenance base. There’s a lot of room in here — until that giant wheel swings up into this space just after takeoff! - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Chix Fix set up shop at United's Family Day, showing visitors the inner workings of the towering jet engines on the 787 Dreamliner and the cavernous wheel wells into which the plane's landing gear hydraulically retract.

United takes planes out of service every 18 months for inspections and upgrades, and our tour included a handful of Boeing 737s with panels and seats removed as technicians checked and lubricated the flight control systems.

Even the smaller aircraft are massive — with stairs and ladders pulled up to each wing and exit door as they sit in the hangars. But outside, teams competing in a "plane pull" managed to move an Airbus A320 across the pavement with only a rope and a whole lot of elbow grease. Call it a metaphor for all you can accomplish with teamwork — and watch the video above to come along on our tour!

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