American Airlines Flies Donation to Stillwater Airport

Jetliner passenger plane expanding hands-on learning

College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology

As a land-grant institution, Oklahoma State University prides itself on offering a quality education to all students, and as of mid-September, education in the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology (CEAT) got a boost in hands-on learning opportunities. American Airlines donated a retired MD-80 passenger aircraft to CEAT's Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) school. The plane will serve as a learning laboratory for undergraduate and graduate students as well as a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) opportunity for kindergarten through 12th-grade groups.

The plane took off from Tulsa on September 23 and landed at the Stillwater Regional Airport around 9:30 a.m., where a group of American Airlines representatives, government officials, OSU leadership and other supporters were gathered to watch MD-80 N491's final landing.


Representatives from American Airlines met Pistol Pete at the MD-80 event celebrating the donation of a retired passenger jetliner to the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering school.

OSU President Burns Hargis said American Airlines has given OSU a pinnacle in aerospace research that will continue to elevate the already outstanding aerospace program. Ranked nationally, the program will now have more opportunity to develop students from textbook learners to hands-on innovators.

Pistol Pete was present to wave the plane onto the tarmac, and decals of him were proudly displayed on the sides of the aircraft. As a spinoff of aviation tradition, the Stillwater Fire Department and OSU's Fire Service Training unit sprayed water over the aircraft as it approached the tarmac in front of the crowd, signaling its final flight and official retirement. The plane will no longer fly but will be kept operational to demonstrate functions and processes for learning purposes.

MAE senior Shawn Parsons spoke at the event, where she thanked all those involved in making an impactful investment in the college and future graduates.

"We come here for a degree because we have dreams — we want to be leaders in the aerospace and aeronautics communities," Parsons says. "... we have the opportunity to tell our future employers that we were a part of a program allowing us to go beyond the classroom and be hands-on."

American Airlines' donation of the plane is a transformational step toward practical application outside of the classroom. While most mechanical and aerospace students look for intern- ships or industry experience to move them into their careers of choice, the MD-80 will provide an environment for applied education, giving graduates skills they can directly apply to jobs after graduation.

The reach of the aircraft will not stop with OSU students. STEM educators will be able to take kindergarten through 12th-grade groups on board to learn first-hand how an aircraft operates. They will get to interact with different parts of the aircraft, a highlight that will hopefully inspire future generations to explore mechanical and aerospace engineering.

MD-80 N491 was open for walk-through tours after the speaking portion of the event, but those who went through in September will not see the same thing if they come back in the following months. The School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering has plans to turn the aircraft into a lab space with a variety of modules throughout to demonstrate how the plane works and the science that goes into its functions.

The transformation will require investments from alumni and supporters. If you're interested in donating to the MD-80 aircraft lab, contact Senior Director of Development Tylerr Ropp.