Corporal Andrew Ashbrook enjoyed science subjects at school and catching surf in his spare time when growing up in the Sydney suburb of Cronulla.
But his real passion, one that he has literally taken to new heights, was citizen band (CB) and amateur, or ham, radio operations.
The 50-year-old is now an avionics instructor at the Royal Australian Air Force School of Technical Training (RAAFSTT) in Wagga and reflected on his interest in radio.
“Back then, the CB radio was our equivalent of the internet,” Corporal Ashbrook said.
“My friends and I communicated on CB every day.
“There were no books or manuals; we just had to figure out how it all worked so we could build, use and maintain our own equipment.
“When I was 16, I found out by accident that the fundamentals of radio and electronic engineering were a bit more complicated than I’d thought.
“We were living in Kirrawee, a hilly area where you needed a lot of power to transmit, so I built a 45-foot antenna on top of my father’s roof and put 150 watts of power through my CB so I could be heard.
“I ended up wiping TV sets for 37km and sending the signal all the way to west coast USA. That was how I learned about filtering and harmonics on single-side band.”
Corporal Ashbrook went on to run an electronics repair shop employing six people when aged in his 20s.
Over the following decade, planned obsolescence forced him to close that business.
He then decided to join the Air Force because he said he believed aviation still had a tried and true dependence on electronics.
As an avionics instructor at RAAFSTT, he put his innovative mind to work.
Using computer-assisted design and 3D printing, Corporal Ashbrook machined rare CAC Aermacchi MB-326H aircraft parts.
With the aircraft parts long gone from industry production lines, his efforts created a fully functional, interactive electronic environment in the Macchi, an enduring training aid for avionics students.
More recently, during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, he was a course military adviser responsible for mentoring 48 young adults under lockdown.
Over the course of their program, he introduced a video game-derived communication tool to create a real-time learning community with shared screens that not only had positive effects on his students during lockdown, but also produced a 97.5 per cent course average – one of the highest in the school’s history.
His outstanding achievement was recognised when he was awarded an Australia Day Medallion in January.
After gaining his Training and Assessment Certificate IV late last year, Corporal Ashbrook went back to working with his hands in the hangar, imparting his passion for electronics and experience in fault-finding components to trainee avionics technicians.