Aviation program takes wing at Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg/Leominster


Kneeling from left, Kevin Corsani, 13, and Jordan Thompson, 13, two of the Fitchburg and Leominster Boys & Girls Club aviation club members, talk about the electric four-channel model aircraft that they built, under the supervision of Alfred Dean of the Wachusett Radio Control Club.

Kneeling from left, Kevin Corsani, 13, and Jordan Thompson, 13, two of the Fitchburg and Leominster Boys & Girls Club aviation club members, talk about the electric four-channel model aircraft that they built, under the supervision of Alfred Dean of the Wachusett Radio Control Club.

The Worcester Telegram
February 25, 2016
By Bill Thomas Correspondent

LEOMINSTER – Many hands make flight work, and in the case of the local Boys & Girls Club aviation program, that spirit of cooperation has translated into a radio-controlled model airplane.
“During the building process, it was necessary to ask for the help of others, and many responded to our needs with donations of the transmitter used to control the plane and a flight simulator that allowed the builders to learn how a model plane flies,” said program instructor Al Dean.

It was Mr. Dean’s friend Paul McCracken who donated the simulator and transmitter.

“The kids can practice 15 minutes of landing and taking off” with the model, “and now they’re not cracking it up anymore,” Mr. Dean said, reached while vacationing in New Orleans.

The largesse of Rollstone Bank & Trust of Fitchburg provided the rest of the components, which included the propeller, wheels, battery, battery charger and servos, which operate the rudder. 

Jordan Thompson, 13, left, a member of the Boys & Girls Club aviation club, answers questions about the electric four-channel model aircraft.

Jordan Thompson, 13, left, a member of the Boys & Girls Club aviation club, answers questions about the electric four-channel model aircraft.

The radio-controlled model is manufactured by Sig, with a wingspan of 70 inches and a 56-inch fuselage. It weighs 5.5 pounds. Sig began manufacturing model planes in 1951, Mr. Dean said, and is one of the last companies still offering balsa kit airplanes. Most of the planes today are made in China of foam and come with motors and servos installed, so they are ready to fly within an hour.

The effort dovetails nicely with other STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) teen programs at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, said Marketing Coordinator Katie Hammes.

“The science, technology, engineering, arts and math programs are a primary focus for the teens,” she said, “so this is really a good fit. It’s been a really great experience for them.”

Plans are in the works to make three additional model planes, she said, in addition to the first model. That effort will involve the participation of eight or nine youths.

“They’re planning on taking the (newly built) plane to an airfield around here. We’re starting a new aviation program, and this is laying the groundwork for it,” Ms. Hammes said, in reference to the second year of the program.

Jordan Thompson, 13, right, a member of the Boys & Girls Club aviation club, answers questions about the aircraft.

Jordan Thompson, 13, right, a member of the Boys & Girls Club aviation club, answers questions about the aircraft.

“We can’t fly it unless we have a fairly large area,” Mr. Dean said. “We have a flying field in Sterling at the former landfill, and some of us active pilots have the ability to fly at Fitchburg Airport.”

Mr. Dean sold his own self-built plane three years ago, after logging 750 hours, including trips to Florida and Wisconsin.

Youth participants in the aviation program led by Mr. Dean included Al Perez, Jonathan Vega, Kevin Corsani and Jordan Thompson, ages 13 to 18. Besides Mr. Dean, program instructors were Russ Hume, an active pilot; and Jon Benoit, a contractor in Fitchburg.

Mr. Dean credited Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Donata Martin, Teen Center Director Jon Blodget, Ms. Hammes, and Volunteer Coordinator Rebecca Cyganiewicz for “responding to the needs of this project and making it come to life.”

“Any project like this is a team effort,” said Mr. Dean, who hosts a big-band and swing show for radio station WICN 90.5 FM in Worcester. “We had an average of four kids working on it at once. We had a team who helped us quite a bit in setting up the simulator. It benefits so many of these kids in keeping them off the street.”

Aside from the immediate value of the aviation program, Mr. Dean sees it as a road toward sustaining the need for future pilots. Boeing estimates it will need 500,000 new commercial pilots worldwide through 2035.

“That’s why we hope some kids will become airline pilots,” he said.

Boys & Girls Club staff also credited Rollstone Bank & Trust for financial support for the project. Harvey Buchanan, vice president of facilities for the bank, has a plane at Fitchburg Municipal Airport, and served as a liaison for getting the bank involved.

Other Boys & Girls Club STEAM programs include the following:

Beekeeping: Now in its third year. With the help of volunteers, teens care for several hives and harvest honey. They harvested 20 pounds in 2015.
App inventor and coding programs: Now in its second year. Teens learn the basics of programming and coding, led by staff who attended a national training program to bring the skills to the participants.

Robotics: Now in its sixth year. Teens participate in the FIRST Robotics Competition, where they have six weeks to build a functional, 120-pound robot to complete the yearly challenge. The participants are getting ready to ship their robot to the regional competition.

Career Launch: Now in its second year. While not strictly a tech program, Career Launch gives teens the opportunity to network and visit professionals in a variety of careers, primarily in the technical and manufacturing fields, with the intent of giving them a hands-on approach to choosing a career.