Kamen lands at MST to check in on airplane build project, stays for ‘Honor a NH Teacher’ coin presentations

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Dean Kamen confers with lead volunteer mentor Jack Barry about the student plane-building program at Manchester School of Technology. Photo/Steve Heffelfinger

MANCHESTER, NH — Teacher Christa McAuliffe dreamed of inspiring students to reach for the sky, and she has done just that as evidenced by a team of high school students at Manchester School of Technology, who are literally fulfilling her vision by building an airplane.

As the aircraft nears completion, legendary inventor and U.S. FIRST founder Dean Kamen paid a visit to the students Tuesday during a plane-building workshop and presented Christa McAuliffe commemorative silver dollars to the Aviation Museum, whose volunteers created the program.

Kamen toured the plane-building workshop and met with students and volunteers who’ve been working since 2019 to build the airplane.

Flight testing of the completed aircraft is expected to happen in the spring of 2022.

Dean Kamen, left, with a quartet of school administrators (front, from left) Karen Hannigan-Machado, retired MST principal; Assistant Superintendent Amy Allen; (rear, from left; Acting MST Principal Tim Otis; Superintendent of Schools John Goldhardt. Photo/Steve Heffelfinger

The airplane, a two-seat RV-12iS light sport aircraft, is being assembled by students in partnership with the Aviation Museum of NH and Tango Flight, an educational non-profit. It’s the first in a planned series of student-built aircraft. The program is designed to give MST engineering students hands-on experience in a range of disciplines, from manufacturing and assembly to aeronautical engineering.

The completed aircraft will be sold on the open market, with the proceeds used to build the next airplane. Start-up funding was provided by local businesses; the program has not cost taxpayers or the school district one dime.

After touring the workshop, Kamen presented the McAuliffe coin to Jack Barry, an Aviation Museum volunteer who mentors students and manages the plane-build project during a ceremony in the school’s Brennan Center.

Dean Kamen with students in the Manchester School of Technology plane-building program on Nov. 23, 2021. Photo/Steve Heffelfinger

Barry, a retired pilot and mechanic with more than 50 years experience, was named “Senior Volunteer of NH” in 2020 for his commitment to the plane-build project.

Christa McAuliffe silver dollar coins were awarded to MST teachers Daniel Cassidy and Athanasia Robinson, two faculty members who’ve shepherded the plane-building project since 2019. The coins were presented by Shana Hawrylchak, executive director of the SEE Science Center, which is sponsoring a campaign to honor NH educators with the McAuliffe coin.

From left, Dean Kamen, Shana Hawrylchak, Dan Cassidy, Athanasia Robinson, and Jack Barry. Photo/Steve Heffelfinger

Daniel Cassidy has been an educator for over 15 years, with extensive prior experience in private industry. He currently teaches manufacturing and engineering at MST and also coordinates the plane-building program.

Anthansia Robinson has taught for more than 18 years, and also has extensive private industry experience. She currently teaches integrated mathematics and science at MST, where she also coordinates the plane-building program.

Dean Kamen recounting efforts to convince politicians and government bureaucrats to agree to produce the McAuliffe coin. Photo/Steve Heffelfinger

Members of the public may nominate educators to receive a McAuliffe coin online.

A portion of the cost of each coin is being underwritten by Service Credit Union. Teachers selected to receive a coin will be invited to a special celebration in May for National Teacher’s Day.

Kamen, a long-time advocate of STEM education, founded the U.S. FIRST robotics program and Manchester’s SEE Science Center. The MST robotics team also attended the event and met with Kamen.


Christa McAuliffe 2021 Proof Silver Dollar

About the coin

The Christa McAuliffe commemorative coin is a silver dollar minted by the United States Mint exclusively in 2021. McAuliffe, a New Hampshire social studies teacher, was selected to be the first Teacher in Space by NASA.

On Jan. 28, 1986, McAuliffe and six astronauts died when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch.

The Aviation Museum, a non-profit based in the 1937 art deco passenger terminal at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, is dedicated to preserving the Granite State’s rich aviation past and also inspiring today’s students to become tomorrow’s aviation pioneers.

The Aviation Museum is located at 27 Navigator Road, off Harvey Road, in Londonderry.