Faces of Kansas City: Bringing historical aviation to life - KCTV5

Faces of Kansas City: Bringing historical aviation to life

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Just west of the stadiums where the Royals and Chiefs play, a handful of students are working on a pretty incredible project.

"It's been awesome watching it go from bare bones to skin and then learning more about history," one said.

One of the only places you'll find an airplane like the one being built is in the pages of a history book. At the Aviation Institute of Maintenance in Kansas City students are building an exact replica of a 1918 Moraine Saulnier.

"I've climbed in it a couple of times and it's the coolest thing in the world just to get your hand on the stick. You start making engine noises and pretend like you're shooting down the Red Baron," student Chris Hendrix said.

The Saulnier is a French fighter plane that was used in battle in World War I. There are only four of the planes still in existence. When the students are finished with their project it will fly.

"Just like in World War I everything in this aircraft is completely hand-built. We have designed and hand built every aspect of it. We've really been working off of photos rather than blueprints," Hendrix said.

The students say the airplane is surprisingly light and some may call it flimsy as it's made primarily out of wood and fabric.

"And this is what it is, it's got a stretch to the fabric," Marvin Story said as he shows KCTV5's Brad Stephens one specific part of the plan.

Then the students brush on about seven to 10 coats in all of a concoction that is basically fingernail polish. The coats make an outer barrier that is very tough.

They did run into one big problem when they were trying to figure out what to use for an engine.

"We can't go back and find an engine to fit the plane, so we actually use a helicopter engine that closely resembles the power we need to lift the plane," Patrick Nelson with the Aviation Institute of Maintenance said.

The students are at the Aviation Institute of Maintenance to learn how to repair modern aircraft, but building an old bird gives them new perspective.

"Our navigation system today is fascinating. Everything is digital, it's the iPad in the airplane. Now on this stuff, maybe you have steam dials, you'd have to wipe off your goggles and you're scarf would be hanging out the side. It's nothing like that," student James Shumaker said.

And proving that you're never too old to learn a new trick, 60-year-old student James Benton said he's having a blast working on the French warplane.

"You have to have a mindset to really do this. When you get older you're a little slower. It takes a little longer, but you can do it," he said.

The students said they should be finished with the plane in about three months. That's when they'll fly it to Virginia where it will be on display at the Fighter Factory Museum in Virginia Beach.

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