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New planes keep students grounded

By Greg Gelpi

With planes flying over head, local students are excited about their new planes that are stuck on the ground.

A former Delta Air Lines captain donated two six-seat airplanes to the Clayton College & State University Aviation Maintenance Technology Department.

A project that will follow the curriculum of the university department, aviation students are learning how to disassemble and reassemble the PA 23-250 Aztec airplanes.

Just accepting the donation of the two aircraft from retired Captain L.G. Wassenberg posed a logistical problem for Department Head Jack Moore and his students.

Transporting the planes from an airfield in Newnan to the university's aviation department in Jonesboro, the teams of students spent days taking the planes apart and loading them on flatbed trucks.

"It was actually fun," said Ryan Eichholtz, one of the students who helped move the planes. "It was like a field trip."

The process proved more difficult than some students originally anticipated.

"The most difficult part was every bolt on the plane was rusted," said Eichholtz, who is following in his father's footsteps, working as an aircraft mechanic's assistant at Fulton County Airport-Brown Field.

Translating the two-dimensional schematics in textbooks and manufacturers' manuals into the three-dimensional reality of an actual plane turned into a challenge, he said.

Toting an aircraft down U.S. Highway 19/41 require removing the wings from the planes. In order to do so, though, students had to first take the propeller off of each wing.

"You get down to thinking you're done and realize you have a lot more to do," Eichholtz said.

With each task, students discovered another issue that had to be resolved. Removing the propellers required students to disconnect all of the wiring and connections between the propeller and the wing.

Sweating in the heat and swatting bugs, Troy Craig, a Delta mechanic's assistant, said it was his first plane to move, but he would do it again.

The experience of working on the plane and working as a team to complete the task made it worth while, Craig said.

The trip from Newnan to Jonesboro provided difficult in and of itself, Moore said. As with any unusual load, traffic slowed and even stopped to check out the planes as they rolled on by.

The donations demonstrate the support the community has for the department. The donations also give more challenges to the students, who had mastered the planes the department already has.

"It gives us new fodder and challenges to work on," Moore said.

Students will work on the airplanes as they progress through the aviation maintenance curriculum.

"We only work on that portion of the plane that we are having a particular class for," Moore added. "This is a lot more academic than people realize. Learning the stuff would be meaningless if you didn't have the stuff to work on."

Members of the community who helped with the move included retired Captain Don Oglesby of Northwest Airlines, Captain Joe Shepherd Northwest Airlines, Ray Croaker, David Croaker, retired Delta mechanic Leonard Ebert, retired Delta mechanic Fred Harms and his son Seth Harms.

A similar plane that was donated took a year and a half for Clayton State students to repair and recondition, Moore said.

Clayton State already had a fleet of four planes and helicopter. The Clayton College & State University Foundation owns six planes.

The Clayton State Aviation Maintenance Technology Department prepares students to work on both the "powerplants" and fuselages of aircraft, Moore said.