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Small Alaska airport makes room for FedEx 727

Colleen Mondor
The FedEx-donated Boeing 727 has made headlines for its size and the logistics required of landing it at Merrill Field. But teachers are busy incorporating the "new lab" into the UAA curriculum. Creative Commons photo

Anticipation continues to build over the planned arrival of a Boeing 727 to Merrill Field, the general aviation and small-plane airport just east of downtown Anchorage, after the municipal Assembly recently approved the aircraft's landing later this month.

While attention has focused on the physical size of the jet, donated by FedEx, and the logistics necessary to land such a large aircraft at Merrill, faculty and staff at the University of Alaska Anchorage Aviation Maintenance Program (AMP) have been working on plans to integrate the B727 into the classroom.

According to Professor Paul Herrick, AMP Chair, it will take about a semester to fully merge the aircraft and the learning environment it offers into the aviation program curriculum. Courses likely seeing immediate benefits from its arrival however include Aircraft Auxiliary Systems, Turbine Engine Systems and those focused on hydraulics.

On the piloting side, students in the Transport Category Systems course will also quickly benefit.

Parking any aircraft outside permanently in Alaska comes with obvious attendant maintenance costs but the FedEx donation is unique as it includes spare parts and components, something that was lacking in similar offers from airlines in the past.

Longterm, the university will not be spending the large amount of money necessary to keep the plane in airworthy condition but this does not mitigate its impact on the AMP.

"The plan is to keep the aircraft intact for about 15 years of good solid use," Herrick told Alaska Dispatch, "before we have to break it up." Even then, though, the components will be invaluable to students.

Herrick explained that the main engines will not be run; the cost is too high, but with an Auxiliary Power Unit students will gain exposure to multiple working systems including hydraulics, ventilation, heating and cooling. In comparison to their current fleet of General Aviation aircraft, the B-727 offers exposure for students to the type of aircraft that many are hoping to work on in their future careers. "There is a great deal of excitement around here about the aircraft," said Herrick, "and the opportunities it presents."

Colleen Mondor covers all-things aviation for Alaska Dispatch's Bush Pilot blog and is author of 'The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska'