Riverside, CA – Over the past several years, a total of 35 young people, aged 14 to 18, have been getting together at Flabob Airport on weekends to restore a 1941 Aeronca Chief. Under the watchful eyes of Al Gester and Roger Farnes, along with a group of EAA Chapter One volunteers, the 23 boys and 12 girls took a rotting hulk that had long since been abandoned, stripped it down and brought it back to "showroom" condition. After being signed off and test flown, the decision was made to fly the Chief to the 2006 AirVenture Convention in Oshkosh. The flight was scheduled to launch July 19.
Two of the kids, who participated in the rebuilding activity, and two adults planned to fly the Chief and an Ercoupe belonging to Thomas Wathen across the country. The two young people were to be accompanied by a CFI, making it possible for them to log their cross-country hours in the Chief.
The program was supported by the Wathen Foundation which granted scholarships to many of the Aeronca Kids so they could take flying lessons. As a result, 27 of the 35 students have started logging dual, 19 have soloed while a total of 10 have earned their Private Pilot certificates.
Parents of the students reported that their children had shown significant improvement in behavior and the assumption of responsibility.
The "Aeronca Kids" are being replaced by a new group which will be known as the "Stinson Kids". Work has already begun on restoring a Stinson 108 that was donated by a group headed by Alan Shackleton. The Chief, and eventually, the Stinson, will become part of a fleet of aircraft used by the Wathen Foundation to provide basic flight instruction for young people.
"We believe that restoration projects like the Chief and Stinson give high school students an opportunity to focus their interests and energies on a positive, life-enhancing program," said Tom Wathen, founder of the Wathen Foundation. "In a sense, the airplane builds the kids, not the other way around. The exposure and education they receive through restoration projects instills a sense of discipline and confidence, along with an enthusiasm for aviation that is joy to behold."
The new partnership is committed to develop world-class aviation education curricula to motivate students to learn science, technology, engineering and math.
After six years of repair and restoration, Flabob Airport's Aeronca Super Chief made it back into the air and all the way to Wisconsin.
The WAHS is a free public charter high school on the grounds of historic Flabob Airport, owned by the Thomas W. Wathen Foundation.