Scouts, Venturers from Michigan restore old plane, helping them soar

The Cessna, ready for takeoff. (Photo courtesy of Pete Mapes)

The last time this particular Cessna 150B left the ground, the Scouts of Troop 7 and Venturers of Crew 7 hadn’t been born.

It was 1992. Passenger 57, the R-rated action thriller starring Wesley Snipes, was among the year’s most popular movies.

So you can imagine the elation — and satisfaction — felt on Oct. 24, 2020, when these Scouts and Venturers from the Michigan Crossroads Council watched the plane rise off the ground and return to the skies.

It had to have felt especially good for these young people to know that they had rebuilt that very aircraft.

Under the guidance of a group of FAA-certified mechanics, aeronautical engineers, skilled aviation artisans and devoted volunteers, the Scouts and Venturers got the Cessna back into flying condition after 28 years on the ground.

They sewed seat covers, wired radio harnesses, rebuilt the engine, repaired sheet metal, went through every system in the aircraft and more. Each smaller project helped them slowly ascend toward their goal.

And each hour could be logged as time worked toward FAA certification as airframe and powerplant mechanics.

The project, called the Scout Aviation Maintenance Experience (or SAME), was so involved that it took two summers and two separate groups of participants to complete. That’s a nice antidote to the modern obsession with instant gratification.

And if you’re concerned about the work ethic of “young people these days,” consider this: The group of Scouts and Venturers worked Monday through Friday for seven weeks, all summer long. Their days started at 7 a.m. and ended at 1 p.m. They had the option to stay even longer if they chose, and many did.

“This crew restored an airplane and, in two years, made it flight-worthy,” says Don Shepard, Scout Executive of the Michigan Crossroads Council. “It is a great inspiration.”

The Cessna in 2019 as repairs had begun. (Photo courtesy of Pete Mapes)

The sky’s the limit

For proof of SAME’s success, you could look up at that soaring Cessna and its tail number: N7360X. Or you could look up some of the program’s recent alumni.

Jenya Torsh is studying to become an avionics maintenance technician.

Nickoli D’Agrella is studying aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. He says the lessons learned as a Venturer — fabrication, electrical work, engine mechanics, airframe maintenance and more — were a turning point for his career plans.

Photo courtesy of Pete Mapes

The adults who made it happen

“I never thought it would actually fly,” Nathaniel Marshall, a Venturer who participated in the 2020 edition of SAME, admitted to his local newspaper.

But Pete Mapes knew better. He’s the Advisor of Crew 7, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, command pilot, chief flight surgeon and an FAA-certified instrument flight instructor.

And how’s this for stakes? Mapes knew he’d be the one test-flying the rebuilt Cessna before it was turned over to its owner, meaning he had even more incentive to make sure it performed flawlessly.

“It flew like a gem,” Mapes said after a 30-minute flight around the Oscoda–Wurtsmith Airport in northeastern Michigan.

Mapes says he devotes his time to Scouting because he knows that teenagers can accomplish great things when they work together — building planes, climbing mountains or saving lives.

He is in his 25th year volunteering as an adult Scouter. So is his wife, retired U.S. Air Force Col. Nona Mapes, who serves as the chartered organization representative for the troop and crew. Both units are sponsored by American Legion Post 274 in Oscoda, Mich., and both meet at the Hope-St. John’s Church in Oscoda.

Knowing what teens can do also inspired other adults to register as BSA merit badge counselors and join the SAME effort.

Mapes was joined by these highly experienced aviation mechanics:

  • John Veld, a retired Air Force technical sergeant, B-52 mechanic and civil pilot who taught sheet metal and composite repair and fabrication
  • Gary Piotrowski, who taught textiles, how to sew the seats, headliner, carpet and aircraft cover from flame-resistant materials
  • Marv Poland, a retired Air Force master sergeant, mechanic, airport manager and civil pilot who taught how to disassemble the engine and general mechanical repair
  • Sanford Sweet, former Marine Corps aviation mechanic, now Phoenix Composites FBO manager at the Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport and civil pilot who taught rigging, flight controls and fuel systems
  • Rollin Tomlin, an FAA designated maintenance examiner who taught general mechanical and inspection
  • Paul Kline, one of Michigan’s finest and most experienced aircraft reciprocating engine mechanics, who taught engine rebuilding and installation
  • Mark Evans, FAA Avionics Technician of the Year in 2009, who taught avionics installation and wiring
  • Dave Young, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant in aircraft maintenance, who taught general mechanical skills
  • Sasha Lazic, maintenance supervisor for Southern and Atlas Air in Cincinnati, who taught general mechanical repair, instrumentation, hydraulics, flight controls, inspected the plane and completed the necessary paperwork for the annual inspection to make it airworthy
  • Radovin Lazic, who disassembled the planes and transported them to the Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport in his truck

But before any of that could happen, they needed a plane. Elizabeth Himwich, a licensed pilot trained by Mapes and former Health Care Career Explorer, purchased a used plane from a Texas charity for the Scouts and Venturers to use.

Himwich plans to earn her instrument rating in the rebuilt plane so she can fly through clouds. Elizabeth is a doctoral candidate at Harvard, studying quantum gravity, and is applying to NASA to be an astronaut.

Photo courtesy of Pete Mapes

Making a flight pattern

With one successful plane rebuild complete, what’s next for the SAME program?

In summer 2021, a new crop of up to six Scouts and Venturers will start rebuilding a 1965 Cessna 150E. This plane had 50% more horsepower than the Cessna 150B rebuilt in 2019 and 2020.

Mapes is accepting applications for the 2021 program, which is generously funded by Mapes and his wife. SAME is offered free to up to six Scouts, Venturers, Sea Scouts or Explorers each year.

The program is valued at $6,000 per participant. Limited local hosting in the Oscoda Area is available. In 2020, Venturers from Michigan, Maryland and New York participated.

Interested applicants must:

  • Be registered with the BSA
  • Be at least 14 or have completed the eighth grade
  • Be under 21 years old
  • Submit an application by March 15, 2021
    • Applications must be accompanied by:
      • a 200-word statement of why the applicant wants to participate
      • proof of current membership in BSA
      • a Young Eagles flight certificate from the Experimental Aircraft Association
      • a current school transcript
      • three letters of recommendation

Contact Mapes at 937-212-8435 to learn more. Upon completing SAME, participants become eligible to apply for a yearlong flight training scholarship leading to certification as an FAA Private Pilot at the Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport. The flight scholarship is worth $22,000.

About Bryan Wendell 3217 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.