Mason Hardy had only been at his new job a few weeks before he met a head of state.
Hardy, 21, of Yukon, paints unmanned aerial vehicles for drone maker Kratos. He laid his spray gun aside a few minutes recently out of respect for a guest client who was touring the southwest Oklahoma City plant.
Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven greeted workers inside the Kratos production facility and explained the importance of their work to his Nordic nation – a longtime U.S. ally.
“It was really surreal,” Hardy said. “Hearing the side of it from people who buy our drones is really nice. It means so much to their people.”
Barely more than a month ago Hardy was busy completing graduation requirements for Canadian Valley Technology Center’s Automotive Collision Technology program at the El Reno Campus. He said he never dreamed he would be painting drones for U.S. military interests and those of allies abroad.
Kratos, headquartered in San Diego, builds jet-powered, high performance unmanned aerial tactical and target drone systems. The company has a handful of division offices in coastal areas and 19 production facilities spread across a dozen states, including Oklahoma. The company began manufacturing drones in November 2018 at its Oklahoma City facility.
After high school, Hardy said he initially enrolled in college classes but admits that did not go well. He was aware of options at CV Tech. He enrolled using the Next Step Scholarship, which provides free tuition to students who live in the school’s district area. Participants must have a diploma or equivalent and make progress toward completing a program.
Hardy said his decision is paying off with great starting pay and full benefits. Similar jobs pay a median wage (half earn more and half less) of $19 per hour, according to information supplied by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and confirmed through salary.com.
He said the credit for the job goes to instructor David Venard, who welcomed a senior Kratos manager to campus to speak with students about career opportunities there.
“Financially, I just needed a stable job,” Hardy said. “Mr. Venard gave me lots of options for possible jobs. I got a phone interview at Kratos. I didn’t understand what type of drones they build. I was going into it blind.”
An in-person interview ensued, and Hardy was hired.
“Everything we paint is made of carbon fiber deposits,” he said. “Just like with cars, I do prep work and body work to fill in imperfections in the aircraft. Then, I primer and paint.”
Aircraft produced at Kratos’ OKC facility are unmanned and used for all U.S. Military branches, including the newly organized U.S. Space Force.
Hardy said the smallest drone produced at the facility is seven feet long. Hardy also paints combat drones, which he said can be used in air-to-air or air-to-ground scenarios. These large aircraft are 36 feet long and have wings that measure 15 feet.
“I have a blessed opportunity,” Hardy said, “and take pride in knowing the work I do contributes to protecting service members’ lives and protecting American interests around the world.”
“Canadian Valley was definitely an amazing opportunity,” Hardy said. “The people there are some of the best I have met and changed my life for the better. I give much of the credit to my instructor and the counselors there. They did everything to ensure I have a good work mentality. The rest was on me.”
CV Tech’s Chickasha Campus also offers a collision program. More information on the program is available at cvtech.edu.