Bouncing back from the tornado

If your airplane — the one you spent hours building — was destroyed by a tornado at a fly-in, you might be reluctant to go back to that event. Not so for the members of Explorer Post 491, who lost their Kitfox III in last year’s tornado.

The kids, who spent a year building, the plane, had sold sweepstakes tickets throughout that year and were ready to give the plane away on the closing day of last year’s SUN ’n FUN, recalls Lance Akers, marketing director for the post. “Then a few days ahead of that, the tornado hit. The airplane was not insured. It was an absolute travesty when it was destroyed.”

2011: Explorer Scout Jeffery Mannien and Lance Akers with the Kitfox III built by the members of Explorer Post 491.

Much has happened since then, says Akers. For starters, the post has moved from Birmingham, Ala., to Fort Myers. Fla. Also, more kids have joined the program.

“We also had over 20 students join because they heard about what happened,” he said. “They heard that kids had built this aircraft and they wanted to do it too.”

There wasn’t much left of the Kitfox after last year’s storm, but even that has been a learning experience, he says.

“The students who were involved in the project initially have learned how to deal with adversity. When you are building an airplane you are always going to encounter something you don’t expect. These kids are learning to reverse engineer the whole aircraft. They first had to tear it down, then determine what parts could be used and what couldn’t. They learned how to build with perfect parts and now they had to understand how to take things apart to salvage parts.”

Akers has nothing but appreciation for the aviation community, because the morning after the tornado, people were coming by what was left of the Explorer Post display and donating money.

“We raised just short of $10,000,” he said, noting “Kitfox owners and the avaition community really stepped forward.”

“Unfortunately, the airplane’s propeller was windmilling when it hit the ground, which meant that the engine had to be torn down and inspected,” he says. “So that $10,000 was just the start of our rebuilding fund. We are still raising money We still need a number of parts and new instruments and a whole lot of miscellaneous things, but we are definitely making a lot of progress.”

Although the Explorer Post needs to raise funds for their project, they are at SUN ’n FUN this year helping raise money for another group, Southwest Florida Honor Flight, an organization that flies World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., free of charge so that they can see the World War II veterans memorial.

“The World War II veterans did not receive a memorial until 2004 and by then 65% of them were already gone,” Akers says. “Currently less than 12% remain.”

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