Over the past several years, 35 high school students, aged 14 to 18, have been getting together at Flabob Airport in Southern California on the 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 AirVenture in Oshkosh this year.
Two of the kids who participated in the restoration and two adults flew the Chief and an Ercoupe belonging to Thomas Wathen across the country. The two young people were 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 10 have earned their private pilot certificates.
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 flight instruction to 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.”
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