AIRPLANE REBUILDING PROJECTSWhen the Tom Wathen Center
acquired Flabob Airport, there was a derelict 1941 Aeronca CA65 Super Chief
moldering away on the flight line. The owner had died, no one in his family flew, and they didn't know what to do with it. One day the airport manager and the secretary of the Center had a good idea: let's buy the airplane, find a place to work on it, recruit a bunch of kids to rebuild it under expert adult supervision, and when it is done, teach them to fly in it. This was soon done, and volunteer Al Gester and a cadre of skilled adults were soon mentoring a group of eager young people in stripping off the rotted fabric covering, cleaning the steel tubing, building new wooden wing ribs and formers, and all the work which is needed to restore an airplane. Soon it became apparent that there was a flaw in the plan, namely, deferring flying lessons until the plane was done. It had become clear that the rebuilding of the airplane would be a matter of years, not months, since the youngsters worked only on Saturday mornings, and dedicated one Saturday morning a month to helping out with Young Eagles flights. The program was changed to permit the young people to earn time toward subsidized flying lessons (10 hours for the first 60 hours or work, and 1 hour for every six hours thereafter). We set up a $10 per hour "co-pay" for the flying lessons, because if something is free it is not worth anything.
In only six short years, the Aeronca was finished, resplendent in new blue and yellow paint. Two of the builders won a speech contest and, with two flight instructors and an Ercoupe chase plane, flew the Aeronca
to Oshkosh Airventure
, where it was parked front and center and the kids spent a week talking to astronauts, airshow pilots, the FAA administrator and Secretary of Transportation, and many others. Here's a good Plane & Pilot article
. In 2012, it was again taken to Oshkosh Airventure, where it was donated to the EAA Museum
as a prime example of a youth-built airplane.
During the program a total of 35 youngsters (14-18) worked on the airplane. 27 elected to take flying lessons of whom more than 15 have their private pilot's certificate. Most have gone on to college.
This exercise was not about kids building an airplane, it was about an airplane building kids. The participants learned much more than manual skills; they learned planning, cooperation, persistence, teamwork and leadership. Unsolicited letters from parents testified that the exercise had improved the youth in many ways beyond the obvious.
We now have two such projects going. One is a Stinson 108-3, donated to us by EAA Secretary Alan Shackleton and his friends from Chapter 579 in Aurora, Illinois. The second is a Stits Skycoupe, designed by our own Ray Stits, who drops by to offer help and advice. For a report on the Skycoupe project from General Aviation News
, click here
Each of these programs include a formal curriculum, designed to provide the students with a comprehensive introduction to airplane design, construction and systems, as well as project planning, leadership, and teamwork. It includes Introduction to Aircraft Structures, including steel-tube, wood, fabric, aluminum monocoque, composite; Introduction to Aircraft Controls and Control Systems; nomenclature and applications of Aircraft Hardware; Regulation of Aircraft Repair and Maintenance; principles and practical instruction in woodworking, welding, riveting and other fasteners, measurement, interpretation of mechanical drawings, corrosion removal and proofing, painting and coating, engine, propeller and control system installation; instrument installation and connection; project planning and management; leadership principles and practice. The curriculum is a diverse and comprehensive introduction to the industrial arts with particular application to aircraft.
If you are interested in doing this at your airport, EAA chapter, scout group or other youth organization, we will be glad to explain in more detail what we learned to do and more importantly, what mistakes we made. We had another project Aeronca which we sent to our friends in Frankfort, Kentucky
, where they are doing a great rebuilding job. Our affiliate Build a Plane
may be able to assist with an airplane project.