Engineers Australia Associate Fellow and Chartered engineer Wade Godbee AFIEAust CEng grew up in rural Queensland before joining the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), where he served full-time for 27 years.
In recognition of a lifetime of service, he was recently named Engineers Australia’s 2021 Engineering Associate of the Year at a ceremony in Brisbane.
From farm to military base
Godbee, who was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for military service in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours, has decades of engineering and military experience across the Defence aviation sector. His youth was spent in a decidedly different context, however.
“I grew up on a grain farm west of Dalby in regional Queensland,” he told create. “I did, like a lot of kids, have an interest in aircraft, and built model aircraft as a hobby.”
While a military background wasn’t common in Godbee’s family – aside from his father who served in the Army – Godbee soon solidified his interest in the armed forces by joining the Army cadets in high school. At 16, he was accepted into the Air Force as an apprentice engine technician.
After completing training in Wagga Wagga, he was posted to RAAF Base Amberley in Ipswich, where he worked on aircraft including Canberra and F-111 Bombers.
After a number of years, he made a move into recruitment as an Air Force careers advisor, a shift which he considers an early career highlight.
“I spent two and a half years visiting schools, universities and employment agencies, highlighting the many engineering careers offered by the Air Force and the Defence force overall, and providing counselling advice on how to apply for roles,” said Godbee.
His recruitment catchment extended up to Rockhampton and out to Longreach in Queensland, and down to Grafton in New South Wales.
“I loved the interaction with the general public, meeting young people keen to join the Defence force and guiding them to the right career path. The upshot was that years later, I would then come across some of these individuals in the Air Force, where in a number of cases they’d be working for me.”
From there, he worked at RAAF Base Williamtown near Newcastle, working with Hornet and Macchi aircraft, before being posted back to Amberley as a Warrant Officer Engineer, a role in which he managed 250 personnel and 14 F-111 aircraft.
He discharged from the permanent Air Force and joined the RAAF Active Reserve in 2006, after 27 years of full-time service.
In addition to his continued involvement in the Reserves – where he is in charge of a team of technical Reservists working on Super Hornet and Growler aircraft – Godbee works as a Senior Maintenance Manager for Defence contractor Raytheon Australia.
In this role, he is involved with the Air Combat Electronic Attack Sustainment Program at Amberley, which looks after systems and components of the Super Hornet and Growler aircraft.
“I’ve had a great number of opportunities throughout my career, including deployments overseas and the chance to work with different people and mentor them through their engineering careers,” he said.
That people-first focus has sometimes been challenged by low talent retention rates within Defence.
“Maintaining your current workforce and upskilling them is a major challenge,” he said. “A lot of younger people these days do not have ‘careers’ as such – they have multiple jobs. Changing employers or professions is more prevalent these days than when I first joined the Air Force.”
At Raytheon, too, the challenge to plug skill gaps is keenly felt, but this has simply required a shift in thinking around skilling and recruitment.
“We need certain skill sets and qualifications that other industries don’t have, so we target ex-Defence people or those from civil aviation to fill our workforce,” Godbee said.
His time spent honing his skills and mentoring younger engineers has now paid off; Godbee was recently named Engineers Australia’s 2021 Engineering Associate of the Year, a recognition he is humbled by.
“I’ve had a number of different achievements throughout my military career,” he said. “But to be recognised by Engineers Australia and my peers for the work that I have done is flattering.”
He believes engineering associates have a wealth of expertise and life experience waiting to be utilised.
“Engineering associates, in my opinion, are a very valuable asset to the engineering fraternity,” he said. “Our work can be drawn upon, and should be drawn upon, by project managers and engineering specialists in engineering projects.
“They are the people who have the subject matter expertise through many years of experience, from the grassroots level and up.”
Looking back at his career, Godbee notes the many technological advances within both aviation and engineering that have made his career a varied one.
“Initially I was working on aircraft designed in the 50s – very basic aircraft with limited technological capability,” he said. “But over the years, I’ve seen massive advances in technology and equipment. The opportunities are now endless, especially with the advancement of drones and unmanned aircraft. I’ve found it challenging and exciting at the same time to learn and develop from that.
“It’s been quite a journey.”
To view the full list of 2021 Engineer of the Year winners, visit our awards website.