Plane Taken Apart for Move to School

At 38 years old, Amber is donating her body to education.

She had a long career in aviation, first as a passenger plane for United Airlines, then as a cargo plane for FedEx. The shipping company retired her from its fleet in June 2004.

Built in 1967, she is now in the hands of workers who are carefully taking her apart at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

A truck will move the 50-ton Boeing 727's parts to Broward Community College's Aviation Institute in Pembroke Pines, where the plane will be reassembled and used as a teaching tool.

The school, next to North Perry Airport, offers programs in flight training, aircraft maintenance and airport-operations management.

Rivet by rivet, panel by panel, Marty Batura and a small crew from Nebraska-based Worldwide Aircraft Recovery began the deconstruction project about a month ago. They estimated it would take about six weeks and 10 trips from the airport to move the entire plane.

''We start with the wings and move in from there,'' Batura said from a tarmac on the west side of the airport.

Every piece of the jet -- thousands of bolts and other metal parts -- is marked and put into a Ziploc bag until the plane is ready to be reassembled. Batura calls it the ''bag-and-tag'' method, and says it helps his team keep track of everything.


As Batura and his crew unscrewed wing panels, Donnie Blalack, the head of BCC's aviation maintenance program, thought ahead to how students will learn from the plane.

''This will be the first fully operational, modern-day aircraft we have for our program,'' said Blalack, who joined the college in 2004 after retiring as maintenance manager for United Airlines.

Because of its aging mechanical systems, the plane is no longer fit to fly. However, it still has enough power to operate the pressurization, electronics, hydraulics and navigational equipment, which aircraft-maintenance students will study.


FedEx executives decided last year to donate the plane to BCC after taking it out of service. Boeing 727s built in the 1960s have sold recently for more than $4 million, but Blalack said he didn't know how much Amber might be worth.

The jet originally was a United passenger plane before FedEx bought it and converted it to carry cargo, Blalack said.

Now, the jet itself has become cargo.

The Worldwide Aircraft team has plotted a course for the dismantled plane from the international airport to the aviation school in Pembroke Pines.


A tractor-trailer will take the plane parts along Ravenswood Road, Griffin Road, U.S. 441 and Pines Boulevard.

Once the plane is reassembled, BCC will pay for a new blue-and-white paint job, complete with the college's logo, Blalack said. Amber currently sports fading white paint with the purple-and-red FedEx logo.

On the first day of the project, Batura compared the job to a giant, living puzzle that he will spend the next six weeks solving.

''Each one we do has its own personality,'' Batura said. ``Some want to be taken apart; others put up more of a fight.''

As for Amber?

''Time will tell,'' he said.

Miami Herald

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