ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- On a tarmac built for planes, hundreds of people crowded together for a glimpse at history.
A Boeing 727 FedEx cargo jet was coming in for its final landing at St. Paul's Holman Field. But even as the 1979-built jet was being decommissioned, it was being prepared for its new life as a classroom.
With a marching band belting out tunes and two fire trucks spraying streams of water in the air, the jet taxied into place.
FedEx Captain Mike Ware says it's a unique treat to donate the nation's first "learning jet."
"To reach out to the community and present this to the young kids and the community as a whole, it just shows the dedication they have for this area," he said.
The aircraft has logged more than 40,000 hours in the air, flying first passengers for an airline in South America, and more recently air cargo and packages for FedEx. But the jet's useful life is over so the company is donating the 727 to St. Paul schools for use by Farnsworth Aviation magnet school and Johnson High School.
As the welcoming speeches and thank you's carried on, equipment was being carried out. The jet's cockpit was stripped of the valuable black box recorder and other emergency locator beacon devices. That equipment still has value and can be reused by FedEx in other aircraft.
The devices are not needed for a fuselage that will soon be transformed into a high-tech classroom.
"It's about educating the whole community for the 21st century," said Farnsworth Principal Hamilton Bell. "Opportunities will be available for other schools and school districts to use it, too."
Remodeling the jet interior into a useful classroom setting, including the addition of transportation mode simulators will take about nine months.
But already, the simple presence of the aircraft and the promise it holds is sparking interest among school kids and adults alike.
As many of the prospective students climbed aboard and sat in the cockpit, they were mesmerized by the vast array of so many switches, gauges and aviation gizmos.
"It's cool that you can learn inside a plane. Like a school, and learn about the plane and technology," said student Nathan Alemayehu.
And more than likely, few classrooms have ever lit a passion quite as quickly.
When asked what he'd like to become, student Daniel Alemayehu quickly responded, "A pilot, a pilot -- pretty cool."
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