Occupation in PERSpective: Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator (AES OP)

Magazine Article / November 21, 2019

Sergeant Spencer Cass is an Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator (AES Op) and the Training Management Officer at 402 Squadron at 17 Wing in Winnipeg. 402 Squadron is responsible for generating wings-qualified AES Ops (as well as Air Combat Systems Officers (ACSOs)) to support RCAF operations at home and abroad.

Sergeant Cass joined the RCAF as a direct entry AES Op in April 2009, and was one of the six privates on the first Basic AES Op Qualification course. For this issue of PERSpectives, we asked him to describe his occupation as he has experienced it:

Sergeant Cass, why did you become an AES Op? What was it about the occupation that attracted you? 

I liked aviation from a young age. The opportunity to operate a multitude of sensors in an airborne environment sells itself. I had a background in computers also, and at the time I was joining they were advertising new platforms and upgrades to mission suites.

Was there anyone in particular who was instrumental in helping you decide to become an AES Op?

My step-mother was the most instrumental person in identifying and encouraging me to go AES Op. She is a Personnel Selections Officer, and assisted the AES Op trade with the direct entry program. She provided me with a printout of the basic AES Op duties, and from there my mind was set.

What’s it like to now be delivering the training and what do you look for in an ideal candidate?

It’s the most rewarding part of my career thus far. I’m working with professional and driven instructors, and it’s very motivating to see the trade evolving to new technologies and the advancement of our capabilities as a trade. I would say we are looking for motivated individuals that have a desire to learn, capable of adapting to a dynamic evolving occupation, and aspire to operate in an airborne environment.

“Qualified AES Ops are a vital component that contribute to successful missions.”

- Sgt Spencer Cass

What kind of interesting challenges does this occupation provide you?

We deploy all over the world conducting anti-submarine warfare, overland operations, drug interdiction operations, search and rescue missions, multi-[national] operations and training exercises. The list goes on as our trade ─and our aircraft─ continue to evolve.

We also operate in different environments with outside temperatures ranging from -45 to +54 degrees (this was my experience) depending on the deployment, as well as in almost 24-hour darkness or daylight. We have the opportunity to work with large and small crews, depending on the platform, so we get to meet and learn from a multitude of individuals with different backgrounds and experiences to assist in our own development. 

What are your career aspirations? Do you have a career bucket list?

My initial career aspirations were single-minded and simple: to fly as much as possible, for as long as I can. It has evolved substantially since. Once I became a lead operator for my crew, I was responsible for developing new AES Ops until they upgraded to their highest level of required operational ability (i.e. A Category). This greatly encouraged me to understand my job to a deeper level to provide knowledge and guidance to my subordinates.

After I was posted out of 407 Squadron to 19 Wing Operations Support Squadron (OSS), I had a desire to instruct at 404 Long Range Patrol & Training Squadron (Greenwood, Nova Scotia) on the CP-140 Aurora or at 402 Squadron (Winnipeg) on the Basic AES Op Qualification Course.

I greatly enjoy my time here at 402 Squadron, and my new aspiration is to move to Fixed Wing Search and Rescue (FWSAR) or the Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), as these are new platforms coming to our trade. I’d like to finish up my career having completed a tour as the Senior AES Op of a squadron (as a Chief Warrant Officer), and or completing a tour as the AES Op Career Manager.

How do you find the balance between your work and home lives?

Difficult at times. I feel if you put the required effort in during the day, you should never have to take work home with you. I find that I spend most of my personal time with my friends and colleagues -they are all like family to me. 

What words of advice or encouragement would you have for someone thinking about becoming an AES Op?

If you’re motivated and looking for an exciting career, the AES Op trade will not disappoint. The training requirements can feel long, but the job is demanding and we hold everyone to the same standard. Once qualified, your opportunities are vast; you will deploy all over the world and be exposed to new experiences year after year.

How do you think that you, as an AES Op, contribute to the RCAF’s overall readiness? Where do you see yourself fitting in the big RCAF picture?

Are you looking for a change? Do you think AES Op is the occupation for you?

The annual internal attractions campaign will recommence in Spring 2020.  Talk to your Wing Personnel Selection Officer (PSO) for more information about an occupational transfer. As an instructor at 402 Squadron, I know I’m directly contributing to the RCAF’s overall readiness. We are qualifying dedicated personnel to operational squadrons to meet Canada’s interests domestically and abroad. As new aircraft become available to the RCAF (e.g. FWSAR, RPAS), we will further evolve the training syllabus to ensure new students receive the right training to operate on any platform. Qualified AES Ops are a vital component that contribute to successful missions.

Career Highlights

Sergeant Cass’s first posting was to 407 Squadron (Comox) from 2010-2015. While there, he participated on the following:

  • Op CARIBBE (x4)
  • Op DRIFTNET (x2)
  • Op QIMMIQ (x6)
  • Joint/combined exercises (x13), as well as numerous local exercises.

His second posting was to 19 Wing (Comox) Operational Support Squadron July 2015 – March 2017, from where he deployed on Op IMPACT for six months.

In March 2017, Sergeant Cass was posted to his current employment at 402 Squadron in Winnipeg. Most recently, he participated in Op DISTINCTION as the Vigil Commander at the D-Day Normandy Celebration.

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