FedEx donated a Boeing 727 named “Alina” to the Liberal community on Thursday morning. They named the jet Alina because FedEx has a tradition of naming their cargo jets after children of their employees. The girl that Alina is named after is the daughter of the customer technology manager in Santo Domingo.
Story and Photos by Victoria Calderon
A crowd of USD No. 480 and Seward County Community College/Area Technical School employees, students and other members of the community gathered Thursday morning outside the Mid America Air Museum, craning their necks and covering their ears to drown out the loud roar of the Liberal Learning Jet as it taxied to a stop after its final flight.
The donation ceremony kicked off with a brief speech from USD 480 Board President Delvin Kinser, followed by speeches from several dignataries of the community who helped contribute to the project.
The themes of the day were looking forward to Liberal’s future and acknowledging FedEx and the community for asistance in making that future happen.
Originally, the Boeing 727 (also known as Alina) was supposed to land before the speakers came up to the makeshift stage, but Alina was running behind schedule due to inclement weather.
She had a long journey. Coming all the way from Newark, N.J., Alina finally landed at the Liberal airport at 9:42 a.m. The flight was her last, with Capt. Vincent La Forgia, First Officer John Banes and Second Officer Chris Higgins flying her.
“This plane may be retiring from the skies, but she will now offer a new service to our community,” Kinser said. “For years to come, we expect her to provide a powerful education experience for the children of Liberal and the surrounding communities. She will inspire future engineers, technicians and aviators with a promise of a career that can only be secured with the development of steels and math and science.”
Mayor Joe Denoyer spoke next through the speakers of a taped recording. He was unable to attend the ceremony, but said he was there “in spirit.” He emphasized the history of the Mid America Air Museum in relation to its future.
“It was on this very site that the B-24 called home, where many pilots trained and helped change the course of history,” Denoyer said. “It is with those same hopes and expectations that we see the Liberal Learning Jet providing students the same opportunities that young men and women had in the 1940s to be game changers, and take their generation into the future and make an impact not only here, but upon the entire world.”
Continuing on with the idea of history, David Sutton, the Managing Director of Aircraft Acquisition and Sales for FedEx, discussed the 727’s life before becoming a Learning Jet.
Manufactured in April 1979, Alina was used by Braniff International Airways as a passenger plane. After serving passengers for Braniff for 11 years, FedEx bought the aircraft in 1990. Since then, “she has been faithfully hauling packages for Federal Express,” Sutton said.
And now Alina is here in Liberal, with 36,983 flight hours and 25,652 landings (including her final flight) under her belt.
Sutton then explained the origin of Alina’s name. “FedEx has a tradition of naming aircraft after the children of employees,” he said.
This particular aircraft was named after the daughter of the customer technology manager in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Sutton showed the crowd a picture of Alina when the jet was first named after her, back when she was 4 years old, and now, as an 18-year-old about to graduate from high school. He said Alina plans to move from the Dominican Republic to the United States to study film.
Once Sutton was finished speaking on behalf of FedEx, he awarded Dr. Janese Thatcher, the Dean of Career and Technical Education at SCCC/ATS, a small airplane model to officially commemorate the donation of the Learning Jet to Liberal.
Dr. Thatcher, as noted by many of the speakers, was the driving force behind the acquisition of the learning jet.
“I remember sitting in a city commission meeting when this lady came up to the podium and started talking about a chance to get a FedEx jet brought here in Liberal,” Vice Mayor Dean Aragon said. “At the time, I didn’t think it could come true; but apparently we’re here. And that lady was Janese Thatcher.”
However, without the collaboration with many other groups from across the City of Liberal, Denoyer acknowledged the entire project would not have come together so well.
“It is the coming together of several entities that has made once again this dream a reality,” Denoyer said. “It is exciting when organizations like FedEx, the Mid America Air Museum Foundation, the Mid America Museum itself, Seward County Community College/Area Technical School, USD 480 and the City of Liberal come together to work on a project that not only benefits the residents and students of Liberal and Seward County, but our entire region as well.
“I feel the cooperation of groups and organizations is quickly becoming the norm, and not the exception. It is through these partnerships that we, as a community, will not only survive, but will thrive and grow.”
With only minutes left before the Learning Jet rolled into Liberal’s airport, the last speakers were called up to the podium to give their thanks and share their hopes for the project.
Thatcher, USD 480 Deputy Superintendent Renae Hickert, SCCC/ATS President Dr. Duane Dunn, MAAM Foundation Director Jim Bert and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rozelle Webb all shared a few words.
Finally, Alina made it to her new home, where she will inspire students and later generations to come.
“Our role in the success that this aircraft brings to students is modest compared to the contribution these same students will make to their communities and places of work in the near future. Our message is bold, as the aspirations they bring to their chosen craft. It’s a message that by working together, we can make good, positive things happen,” Sutton said.
Once the jet was safely parked in its new home, the kids and teachers were given the opportunity to get the first glimpse inside of the Learning Jet.
“Welcome home, Liberal Learning Jet,” Kinser said.