The Huffaire Monoplane featured on the cover of Sports Aviation Magazine in 1969 was a pile of parts and pieces last year, tucked away in storage at an airport hangar classroom in North Texas.But high school senior Bryan Soltys-Niemann and his classmates in the McKinney Aviation Academy – a four-year vocational aviation program for McKinney Independent School District high schools – dragged it out piece by piece, determined to restore the plane to its former glory. “We want to be able to say, ‘Look what this used to be,’” Bryan said. “We thought it could be a fun project.”As students huddled around the plane’s skeletal frame to tinker with the engine, two members of our company’s aviation team looked over their shoulders to lend expert guidance on the mechanics – and to offer real-world advice about engineering their futures in flight. Paying it forwardMario Arango, a senior aircraft technician at our company, lit up when he first heard about McKinney Aviation Academy four years ago. The course teaches students everything from the history of aviation to airplane maintenance and operation.
“I was in a similar program when I was in high school, and hearing about this program at the McKinney school district brought back great memories,” he said. “I know how valuable the program was for me. It’s so important to have mentors who can give you real-world advice about how to be a professional in aviation. I’ve had those mentors in the past, and I think the best way to pay it forward is to do the same thing for someone else.”
Mario and Jason Erickson, a pilot for our company, volunteer twice a week to answer students’ questions and help guide the rebuild of the Huffaire Monoplane.
“Mario is the perfect mentor for this project,” said Dan Anderson, our company’s director of aviation. “He understands engines and airframe mechanics, and as a lot of knowledge and expertise that can benefit the kids.”
When Jason learned about the program last fall, he immediately wanted to get involved. He wishes a similar program had existed when he was in high school and before he joined the U.S. Air Force. In class, he sits alongside students during flight simulations to explain what the various graphics mean and to give guidance on what to look for while flying.
“I’m still learning what I can do to help with this program, and I hope to become more involved over time,” he said. “I want to make a difference and help these kids get to where they want to be.”
Hands-on problem solvingSince kindergarten, Bryan knew he wanted to become a pilot.“As soon as I saw that the McKinney school district had an aviation program, I knew I had to be in it to start off my career a little earlier than everyone else,” Bryan said. “It means a lot that Mario and Jason come over and share their knowledge. Being surrounded by these professionals helps us learn and helps our aviation academy become a little bit stronger.”
Bryce Worley, a high-school junior, also dreams of becoming a pilot and wants to join the military reserves after college. He said the program has opened his eyes to the mechanical side of aviation, with the help of Mario’s expertise.
“A lot of us don’t know the basics,” Bryce said. “Building the plane helps us see what makes it fly – for example, how the stabilator helps gain lift by moving up and down.”
The program has prepared Tom Devine’s 16-year-old son with more than basic aviation knowledge for his plans to join the Air Force. He’s getting hands-on experience he wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise.
“High schools used to have classes like woodworking or metalworking, and that’s kind of fallen by the wayside,” said Tom, who works in our company’s procurement and logistics group. “The kids in this class aren’t just building an airplane. They’re learning to work with their hands, think through problems, follow detailed plans and directions, and work as a team. Those are some of the bigger takeaways they’re going to get from this experience.”
The Huffaire Monoplane will never fly again.
But the students plan to make it functional and restore its appearance to the picture-worthy aircraft it was in 1969. The rebuilding process is helping them gain foundational knowledge and understanding of the engineering behind how planes work.
Jason and Mario hope their presence will do more than support the rebuild – their goal is to paint a bigger picture of what a career in aviation can look like.
“When most people think of careers in aviation, they think of commercial airline pilots,” Jason said. “There’s so much more to it than that, and so many more opportunities. I hope that by being here I can broaden their possibilities.”
It's sad the plane "will never fly again". Is that a MISD liability thing or FAA airworthiness thing? "What is necessary to make this fly again, mechanically and legally, and why?" That's a real-world experience. I spent 3hrs a day in high school electronics class troubleshooting and repairing televisions. We could usually make 'em fly again.
Keep up the Work....Its only a short time to complete.
Dave, that's a good question. It could be a combination of both. Maybe it was a condition of donating it to the district, or maybe they don't want the hassle of having another airworthiness certificate issued, especially for an Experimental class plane.
I wonder if Mario was in the Aeronautics program at Skyline in Dallas? I was in that program, way back in the mid to late '70s. Only a few of the guys I graduated with ended up getting A&P licenses.
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