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Raffle of vintage plane benefits Gilford youth aviation program

Union Leader Correspondent

January 06. 2013 10:35PM
Members of WinnAero stand next to the Cessna 172G that they raffled on Saturday. From left, Bill Moran, Don Morrissey, Bill Seed, Duke Kline, Bob McCulla, Dan Caron, and Vlad Vascak. (DAN SEUFERT PHOTO)

GILFORD - Aviators from many generations watched as a World War II veteran and former prisoner of war drew the winning raffle ticket for a vintage airplane, a 1966 Cessna 172G valued near $40,000.

The winner of the plane was a Florida woman, Jane Williams, who was not present as retired Col. Robert W. Fortman of Pembroke drew her ticket.

But the real winners were young people in the Lakes Region that take part in one of many programs sponsored by WinnAero, a group started by a handful of area aviation enthusiasts almost three years ago with the goal of improving Lakes Region students' learning in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

WinnAero works with students at the Huot Technical Center at Laconia High School and ran its second summer Ace Academy program aimed at drawing more young people into aviation.

"Our goal is to help our students grow in the (science, technology, engineering and math) areas, because we trail the rest of the world in those areas," said WinnAero founder Bill Seed.

But the group is also interested in helping young people see aviation as a potential career as the nation faces a looming pilot shortage. Ace Academy has brought some excitement about the field to students, Seed said.

The pilot shortage is one of the reasons Fortman, 90, agreed to take part in the drawing.

"Young people have lost interest in piloting," said Fortman, a B-17 co-pilot whose plane was shot down over Germany when he was 21.

"There's a real need, so I am honored to be here."

WinnAero members decided to raffle the plane as a way to raise money to pay for their programs. They bought the plane, which had been parked at Laconia Airport for many years, at a discount and then invested time and money in making it like new again. Planes last for decades, Seed said.

"It's a beautiful plane," he said.

The raffle, which was publicized in national aviation publications, netted the group $15,000 to use in upcoming WinnAero projects, Seed said.

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