Jun 30 2014
Sunlight broke through a haze of overcast sky just as the roar of a rapidly-approaching cargo plane alerted a crowd of hundreds that Alina had arrived.
The retiring FedEx jet taxied to a stop on the grounds of the Mid America Air Museum in Liberal June 5, to be greeted by cheering schoolchildren and officials from the entities that will collaborate in the project to transform the aircraft into a classroom for education in science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — subjects. The Liberal Learning Jet will involve Seward County Community College/Area Technical School, the City of Liberal, USD 480, and the air museum’s own foundation board, which now owns Alina.
FedEx managing director David Sutton introduced the jet to the spectators, sharing a bit of company lore.
“At FedEx we have the tradition of naming our aircraft after the children of employees, and that is why you will note the name ‘Alina’ on the side of the aircraft,” he said. “Alina is the daughter of Maireni Flores, who manages customer technology in Santo Domingo. Alina was four when the aircraft was named after her, and now she is 18 years old, and will graduate this month from high school in the Dominican Republic.”
Both Alinas — the jet and the real-life girl — will now turn their attention to the pursuit of education. Alina Flores plans to attend college in the United States.
As for Alina, the Learning Jet? Community volunteers and technical school students and staff will begin the work to renovate a jet into a classroom and conference space, with computerized learning stations, flight simulators and more.
SCCC/ATS Dean of Career and Technical Education Janese Thatcher asked the crowd for a shout-out to commit to the project. USD 480 Deputy Superintendent of Schools Ranae Hickert also asked students from the district to make their presence known. As if he’d known how the big day would feel when it finally arrived, city mayor Joe Denoyer, in a recorded message, summed up the sense of excitement:
“Cooperation is becoming the norm in Liberal, not the exception,” he said. “It’s projects like this that show our community will not only survive, it will thrive.”
Denoyer compared Alina’s arrival to historical events linked to the air museum, once the site of a United States Army Air Base. The pilots who trained to fly B-24 bombers during World War II helped change the course of history, Denoyer told the crowd.
“This will be a game-changer for us as well,” he said.
The jet symbolizes the community spirit of FedEx Express and its employees, said Sutton. “That spirit is one of sharing and giving back all we can, in all the communities — large and small — where we live and work.”
The generosity will come full circle, Sutton suggested.
“It is my hope that this aircraft provides the critical hands-on training that is essential to the skill set of the next generation of aviation professions,” Sutton said. “Our role is modest, compared to the contributions these students will make to the future.”
The children lined up to clamber through Alina’s fuselage didn’t seem to be thinking about math or science, though. It was, after all, a sunny day in June, and they got to climb into a real-life jet.