Once the Wright brothers got serious, it took them seven years to build their first working airplane. The students and staff of Rancho High School hope to get a replica of a Wright brothers plane in the air a little quicker than that.
The functional replica of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s second plane, a two-seater, was delivered to the school at 1900 E. Searles Ave., on May 15. Functional is a bit of an overstatement. The plane came in several large pieces and hasn’t flown since a minor crash a few years ago.
“The plan is to have it repaired well enough to be on display at Aviation Nation this year,” said Gary Archambeault, teacher and chairman for the aviation magnet academy. “That’s what we do here … We take planes apart and put them back together.”
Aviation Nation is an annual air show at Nellis Air Force Base. This year’s event is set for Nov. 11-12.
Rancho has more than 400 students in three aviation programs: the flight or pilot program, engineering and maintenance.
“We’ve got guys and gals that fly it, design it and fix it,” Archambeault said. “We’re really excited to have this particular plane to work with.”
The plane was built in 2003 by the University of Southern Utah in honor of the centennial of manned flight. It isn’t an exact replica; some compromises were made for modern Federal Aviation Administration regulations and safety. The gas tank, for example, is from a motorcycle.
“It looks close enough that when it’s in the air you can’t tell it’s not the exact thing,” said Bob Hale, a member of the nonprofit Air Force Association. “It was donated to a nonprofit in Ohio that flew it for a few years. After the accident, they just stored it, and I found out they were looking for a place to donate it to.”
Hale is also a retired staff member from Rancho’s aviation program. He worked out the logistics of acquiring the plane while Archambeault cleared the donation with the Clark County School District. The plane was carefully guided into the classroom shop by dozens of students. The wing assembly barely made it through the doorway.
“We’ve still got to find some people to help us with specific things,” said Hale, who coordinates between Archambeault and the Air Force Association. “We think we have someone to help with repairing the cloth, which is the biggest problem. I don’t think there will be any issue getting it ready for Aviation Nation.”
The project is set to begin in earnest this summer. Students and experts are set to meet weekly to work on the project.
“We’ll start looking at what is right and what is wrong and start repairing what is wrong,” Archambeault said. “It’s all project-based learning here. There’s a little book work, but it’s better to get out there and actually do it.”
Archambeault hopes to have the plane flight-ready in a few years and eventually wants to display it in a public area of the school, hanging from the ceiling.
“If it all works out, we’ll have it on cables but still be able to lower it down and take it out to fly it,” Archambeault said.