"Aeronca Project" Is A Hit!
The Thomas Wathen Foundation
(Wathen, pictured right) has found a very successful way of getting
kids involved in aviation. They call it "The Aeronca Project". For
the past two years, it has provided a focal point for 24 boys and
girls between the ages of 14 to 18, who are very excited and
intensely committed to what they are doing.
The program began shortly after the Wathen Foundation bought
Flabob Airport, in Riverside. Al Gester, a retired Air Force
Colonel, pointed to a rotting Aeronca Chief that had been abandoned
so long, no one knew who owned it. Gester suggested to Tom Wathen
that it would make a good restoration project for young people and
the Wathen Foundation immediately endorsed the idea and offered
workspace. Since it was started, other communities have learned
about the program and asked for guidance in setting up one of their
At Flabob (pictured below), EAA Chapter One has been very active
in the Young Eagles Program, having flown nearly 8,000 kids. If a
Young Eagle shows a lot of interest in flying, he or she is then
invited to work at becoming an Eagle Cadet, by helping out so that
others can become Young Eagles. If they put in four months of
service, working on Saturdays, they may be invited to join the
Aeronca program, which is limited to 24 kids. Today there are 13
boys and 11 girls.
Work patterns vary depending on the task. For example, the boys
took the engine apart for overhaul, and the girls got to put it
back together. All of them are taught how to use the power tools
that are required and all learn some basic skills like building a
wing rib. Most of the time, there are two groups, one working on
sections of the fuselage, the other assigned to the wings. "What's
important is that we're not focused on building an airplane, but on
building character," said Gester. "The kids have to follow behavior
codes, listen to brief lectures on values, and must meet minimum
time requirements to stay in the program. They take it very
When one of the kids spends a total of 60 hours on the Aeronca,
he or she is entitled to 10 hours of dual flight instruction.
Thereafter, every five hours of restoration time leads to another
hour of flying. If the student pilots are over 16, they are allowed
to solo. Five of the girls have received their glider ratings, one
of the boys has received his private pilot certificate and will
become a Naval Aviator. Currently eight other kids are working on
their Private Pilot's licenses.
"The spirit of the program seems to have caught the imagination
and brought responses from a lot of people," said Tom Wathen.
"Tools and materials just show up. The kids needed work tables and
on one Saturday morning, two 16' long tables were waiting by the
door to the workshop. One day a planer turned up and on another
day, there was a collection of other kinds of power tools. Everyone
wants this program to succeed and by all appearances, it's doing
Gester, who started the program will be moving to England soon,
and his successor as program head, Roger Farns has already taken
The Wathen Foundation is so pleased with the results that they
are already looking for a second rebuild project. An ideal donated
aircraft would be a two-place trainer, stick and fabric
taildragger, which then could be used in the "Back to Basics"
flight training program.
FMI: Kathy Rohm at Flabob: (909) 683-2309, ext. 104.