Aircraft cleared for learning: Real jet turned into K-12 classroom


There is no chalkboard at the front of this classroom, no space up front for a teacher to stand and scribble lessons during a lecture.

Instead, there are knobs, switches and buttons. Lots of knobs, switches and buttons – more than most people would know what to do with.

But that's the point of this new airplane cockpit classroom, called "The Learning Jet," at the St. Paul Downtown Airport: Teach kids from kindergarten through 12th grade to get their heads in the clouds and hands on a control stick.

The Learning Jet is a former Boeing 727 FedEx cargo plane, renovated and stationed at the airport to serve as a real-world educational tool for young learners, the Pioneer Press reports. Just about everything on the control panel is operable, with the exception of the engines (which have been disabled) and the landing gear (which is locked in place), the paper reports.

The classroom is expected to be used heavily by students at Farnsworth, an aerospace-focused magnet school that's part of the St. Paul Public School System, the Star Tribune reported. It will be open to field trips from other schools as well.

The aircraft accrued more than 40,000 hours of flight time, the Star Tribune notes, before it was donated to the Minnesota Association of Women in Aviation in July of 2013.

Here's video of the Boeing (nicknamed "Timmy") officially landing for learning duty:

Since then, much of the aircraft has been gutted, new floors installed, the FedEx logo painted over. The association has been providing photos and updates throughout the $100,000 renovation process, funded by a federal grant.

Cindy Schreiber, head of the aerospace program at Farnsworth, told WCCO they believe it's the first of its kind in the United States.

The Pioneer Press says the jet classroom will be open in October, but that could be just the beginning. The paper reports the group AirSpace Minnesota wants to build a full Aviation Learning Center in a vacant hangar at the airport's Holman Field, at the cost of $5 million.

"Timmy" is part of a local focus on the national STEM education curriculum – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – which aims to push more young students, particularly girls and students of color, into those fields, the Star Tribune said. (Farnsworth throws "Aerospace" in the mix to get STEAM.)

The United States ranks 25th internationally in mathematics among industrialized nations, and 17th in science, the STEM website says, as the number of jobs in those fields is increasing. The aim of the program is to get more Americans involved in such professions, pushing the United States toward the top of the global rankings, the site says.

The number of students enrolled in the Farnsworth program is at least 553. Interested families can apply online.

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