People Restoring People

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Eastern Financial Florida Credit Union recently discovered a unique way to marry its aviation background with young people seeking an aviation future.

Eastern Financial provided funds for local high school students and their teacher to assist in the restoration of an old Eastern Airlines DC-7B.

"I thought they'd get a kick out of it as well as learn something at the same time," said Eastern Financial Marketing Vice President Mark Holmes.

Holmes said the credit union works with 30 schools in South Florida and he keeps tabs on what's going on with various school programs. He also works with a group of retired Eastern Airlines employees who are members. The retired workers told him about an old Eastern DC-7B that was being restored by Legendary Airliners, LLC, to tour air shows.

When Holmes learned local Miramar High School has a unit of the Civil Air Patrol, the rest was easy. After a few phone calls, Holmes had created a brand-new aircraft restoration internship program. Several students spent part of their summer days at Opa Locka Airport outside of Miami, buffing metal parts and cleaning aircraft parts for professional aircraft restorers.

"For a little bit of networking, it was real successful," Holmes said. "This is just one more way to be involved. It's a nice coincidence that came along."

Eastern Financial Florida Credit Union was the original CU for Eastern Airlines, which went out of business in 1991.

Way back in 1937, 10 Eastern Airlines employees signed their names to form the credit union that now boasts $1.8 billion in assets and 183,000 members.

The DC-7 was one of the last of the great propeller driven airliners that flew across the Atlantic Ocean just before the dawn of modern jet transport. Equipped with four massive, Wright turbo engines that produced 12,000 horsepower, the DC-7 could carry a crew of four and 100 passengers up to 400 miles per hour at 25,000 feet. It was the first propeller airliner to fly across the U.S. west bound, against the prevailing winds. Douglas Aircraft built 338 DC-7s, with only 40 still flying today, mostly as freight carriers.

Legendary Airliners founders Juan Carlos Gomez and Mark Wolff bought the DC-7 after it had sat in a hanger in St. Paul, Minn. for 32 years. The DC-7 flew for Eastern Airlines from 1958 until being phased out in the early 1960s by newer jet airliners.

Wolff, whose mother was a flight attendant and father a mechanic for Eastern, said the airliner was the last of its kind still equipped with its original seating and interior. When finished it will tour the U.S. and Europe preserving a piece of airline history.

"In Europe, they're bananas over these things," he said.

The DC-7 restoration will cost around $500,000 and is expected to take to the Florida skies in spring of 2006. Wolff said while any help is welcome, the restoration internship adds a sense of history to students already crazy about aviation.

"It gives them a deep appreciation. It's a great experience for these people," he said.

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