WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Dave Winkler always had a love for airplanes and hoped one day to work in aviation. After one of the darkest days in U.S. history, he knew exactly what he had to do next.

“9/11 happened, and it kinda struck a chord … the mass casualties, the being attacked on our own homeland, and, you know, just feeling like maybe there was something I could do to help,” Winkler said.

At the age of 20, Winkler would go from a college student at the University of Cincinnati to an Air Force technician with the 22nd AMXS at McConnell Air Force Base.

“I just always had a love for airplanes, so I knew that was going to be the best place to be able to work,” Winkler said.

For the next three years, Winkler would maintain between 30-40 KC-135 Stratotankers.

“I was a KC-135 Electrical Environmental Technician … basically anything with the electrical systems, anything with the environmental control systems, pressurization, we took care of it all,” Winkler said.

Winkler also worked the flight lines, making sure all departures were right on schedule.

“Working with airplanes that are getting ready to take off and then they would have a problem, so you’d get on, and you’d help out, and you’d have to determine whether they could actually fly or not, Winkler said.

In 2006, Winkler was re-stationed and worked with the 58th AMXS at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“I worked on the CV-22 Ospreys, the tilt-rotors — the airplanes that kinda, they kinda take off like a helicopter, and rotate, and then fly like an airplane,” Winkler said.

Winkler’s unit was the first in the Air Force to utilize the Ospreys after the aircraft’s testing phase.

“They had just gotten their first three when I got to the base — this was the first time they were standing it up and actually going operational with it,” Winkler said. “It’s a lot of pressure … the pilots are trying to learn, flight engineers are trying to learn, so everybody’s trying to figure everything out, so it was a lotta, lotta long days.”

Winkler was honorably discharged in 2008. He says the camaraderie of the two squadrons he served with is still as strong to this day.

“The people that you work with hand-in-hand every day … you lean on them, they lean on you … it was an honor to serve, and I appreciate everyone that does serve and has served,” Winkler said.

After six years in the Air Force, Winkler would do contract work with the military for the next 14 years. He now works on civilian aircraft for Textron Aviation.

If you would like to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at hannah.adamson@ksn.com.