Thanks for your interest in the Athenian Airplane project. Our goal is to provide some history of the student-built airplane project at The Athenian School, as well as to chronicle the current progress of the students as they begin work on the latest project, a Van’s RV-12 light sport aircraft.
The project began back in 2002, when pilot, Marsh Freeman, had an idea. Born of his lifelong passion for airplanes, both building and flying them, he wanted to gather a group of young people together to build (and eventually, fly) a plane. When he approached The Athenian School, Eleanor Dase, the Head of School, was immediately interested. She felt that the project was in line with the school’s mission of providing experiential education experiences, and along with Dick Bradford, gave Marsh the school’s blessing to bring this innovative program onto the campus.
The first order of business was to build a suitable workshop for the project. Freeman took charge of the permitting and construction of a shop on the school grounds. He then presented the project to the student body and parents. He successfully inspired 85 students, an equal mix of boys and girls, including both middle school and high school students, to take on this challenge. Marsh and his family funded the purchase of the first airplane kit, a Wag-Aero Sport Trainer, and the construction process began.
Marsh was aided in the instruction process by Dr. Jim Mandley, a retired Navy pilot and award-winning aerobatic pilot and other members of the Experimental Aircraft Association. Together, these mentors began the process of teaching students how to build the plane, dubbed the Spirit of Athenian. The project was an after-school club, and students typically spent two to four hours per week in the workshop working on various parts of the plane. Two and a half years later, at the Buchanan Airfield in Concord, CA, the Spirit of Athenian went “wheels-up” to the cheers of about 100 spectators , many of them the student builders. Jim Mandley was the pilot, and the first passenger? Eleanor Dase.
In order to keep the program flying, the Spirit of Athenian was sold to fund the purchase of a second airplane kit, a Christen Eagle, an aerobatic biplane. More about that in our next post. Stay tuned!