Build A Plane, a non-profit organization that donates real airplanes to schools, has teamed up with the Thomas W. Wathen Foundation in Riverside, California. The new partnership is committed to develop world-class aviation education curricula to motivate students to learn science, technology, engineering and math.
"It's a really a dream come true for us," says Build A Plane's Lyn Freeman. "The goals of the Wathen Foundation are in perfect alignment with Build A Plane's, and I felt this was a once in a life opportunity." Freeman, long-time editor of Plane & Pilot magazine, is now Director of Educational Development for the Wathen Foundation, overseeing the growth of this new aviation education task force.
The Wathen Foundation is already one of the top aviation education operations in the world. From their headquarters at historic Flabob Airport in Southern California, Wathen already oversees a number of award-winning efforts. The foundation hosts an aviation charter high school, an Air Academy where young people get a week-long immersion into aviation, a variety of outreach programs to local schools, grades K-12, intergenerational Elderhostels where grandchildren and grandparents share aviation experiences, as well as an existing Build A Plane program in which students are refurbishing a Stinson 108 which they will ultimately fly.
Build A Plane, in formal partnership with the FAA, has arranged for more than 30 schools across the United States to receive real airplanes to teach aircraft construction and restoration, as well as providing a unique teaching tool for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Additional Build A Plane projects are underway in Nigeria, India, England, with others soon to follow in Russia, South America and Greenland. The combination of these two foundations establishes an aviation education presence virtually around the world.
Tom Wathen, the foundation’s namesake and benefactor, approached Freeman about the possible collaboration. "We've been aware of Build A Plane's work for some time and once it became clear we were both headed in the same direction, it just made all the sense in the world to team up, the ultimate synergy," Wathen said.
Build A Plane and the Wathen Foundation are already attracting support from leading aviation and aerospace companies. Cessna president and CEO Jack Pelton has joined the Build A Plane board of directors, along with Alan Klapmeier, president and CEO of Cirrus Design, aerobatics champion Patty Wagstaff, Lycoming vice president Ian Walsh, EAA vice president Dr. Lee Siudzinski, CNN anchor Miles O'Brien and many others.
"Aviation is a great motivational hook to teach kids all kinds of things, but especially STEM subjects," Freeman said. "Kids love airplanes. If we can use that natural attraction to inspire them to learn, then that’s good for everybody. And the more people we can expose to aviation at early age, the more people will ultimately choose aviation, as a sport or a career, from engineering, to rocket science to aircraft maintenance. And that’s a real win for everybody." Freeman said.