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News | Feb. 22, 2011

Arctic Warriors help inspire new generation of aviators

By A1C Jack Sanders JBER PAO

By Airman 1st Class Jack Sanders

Volunteers from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson spent their weekend helping inspire children from local school districts to get involved in aviation.
Volunteers participated in the Build-a-Plane program at Begich Middle School. The program is designed to help motivate children to take an active interest in aviation and life.
The program got off the ground of the school after speaker Barrington Irving, the youngest and first African-American to pilot a plane around the world, stopped by the school for a speech, according to Angie Slingluff, FAA Education coordinator.
"Jeanna Fisher, the principal, said, 'Can't we do something like that at this school?'" Slingluff said. "So, we began looking around for an airplane that was suitable."
Luckily for the school, a New Mexico kindergarten teacher had begun her own Build-a-Plane project.
"In her classroom she had a mock instrument panel, a mock yoke, and an old headset, and she would let her kindergarten students "fly airplanes." Slingluff said. "So she really wanted to build an airplane to use for educational purposes, but unfortunately she died in a car crash in 2008. Her estate donated the Pete and Pull model aircraft to Begich Middle School."
After the project managers had the plane they decided they needed some expertise.
"They contacted Norm Lagasse at the aviation museum; he's the director down there and he's an engineer, but Norm's never built an airplane, so he cornered me one day and asked if I'd be willing to help and I've been here ever since," said Ernest Mitchell, master restorer at the Anchorage Aviation Heritage Museum.
Mitchell said, "Our goal is to teach them some of the things they need to know (in life) and if we build an airplane that will be a plus."
"We're basically trying to teach the kids a little about craftsmanship and wood working aviation and aeronautics," Mitchell said. "So far we've had between 80 and 100 kids come through the program in the two years we've been going. We haven't built much, but most of them have learned how to drive a nail," he said with a laugh. "That is a major accomplishment today because a lot of kids don't have that skill set any more."
Some skill sets may be easier to acquire than others when it comes to aviation, which is where the volunteers come in.
"These guys have a lot of skills that they can pass onto the kids," Mitchell said. "My goal is to be able to pass on the things that I know. I've been working with airplanes for almost 60 years and hoping to pass on some of those skills to those kids and create an enthusiasm for not just aviation but to do things right," he said.
The most recent group of volunteers brought in and helped to set up a donated small-frame aircraft, an ultra-light. The Build-a-Plane group plans to fully restore the ultra-light, including a new paint job for school spirit along with an Air Force patch, and hang it in the school for all to see.
"I have kids myself and it's good to get kids involved in aviation," said Tech. Sgt. Nolan Busby, Build-a-Plane volunteer
and 3rd Wing Maintenance Squadron
"(With this program), all of a sudden math makes sense, angles make sense, precision makes sense," said Slingluff. "Most of the kids think of aviation as only being a pilot and say, 'Well I don't want to be a pilot' but they know nothing about the rest of the careers out there. We need mechanics, we need air traffic controllers, we need pilots desperately."
"It's something that as big as aviation is in Anchorage, with the military base out here, with the general aviation industry being as big as it is, it would have never occurred to some of these kids to go get involved in the aviation programs here," Mitchell said.
"If we get one success story a year I'll be happy. It's a good program; it gives the kids something to focus on and talk about and think about," Mitchell said.