By Mary Grady, Contributing editor
When a group of high school students in Talkeetna, Alaska, signed on to rebuild a wrecked airplane, the town, with a total population of 800, rallied to the project in a big way. Fifteen local pilots volunteered to help out with the Build A Plane project, according to the Anchorage Daily News. Local CFI Drew Haag offered a free introductory flight lesson to every participating student. The local chapter of the Ninety-Nines donated $500 to purchase a private pilot ground school course for the local library. "It's an amazing buildup of people," said June Ruda, a counselor at the Susitna Valley Junior-Senior High School. The students are restoring a yellow 1949 Stinson 108-3 that was wrecked in a rough landing several years ago.
The small town's main industry is catering to tourists visiting nearby Denali National Park, and aviation plays a major role. The Build A Plane project inspired K2 Aviation, a local bush-flying service, to create two full-time paid internships for participating students. Talkeetna Aero Services gave one student a paid, full-time summer job and also offered all the students and their parents free flights to view Mt. McKinley. Talkeetna Air Taxi established a $2,500 scholarship for students who pursue post-secondary education or training. They also created a full-time paid position for next summer for a Build A Plane student. "I'm very proud of what our little town has done to support these kids," said Rebecca Fisher, a Talkeetna resident and Alaska Airlines pilot who volunteered to head the project. "Aviation is a big part of who we are here in Alaska and I think people see this Build A Plane project as an opportunity to give back to the community." Build A Plane, a nonprofit group based in California, solicits aircraft donations then distributes those airplanes to high schools and youth groups across the country.