It's a wrap: Jet project goes from student design to employee application

In an impressive reversal of tradition – the custom of unwrapping a present before showing it to others – Pennsylvania College of Technology has actually enhanced a gift's value by covering it.

A Boeing 727 airplane, donated to Penn College in March 2012 after being retired from FedEx Express cargo service, was recently (and attractively) sheathed in vinyl in a project that began with a graphic-design class and eventually involved several academic schools and college employees.

Adding to its primary role as a real-world training tool for students at the Lumley Aviation Center in Montoursville, the institution's largest single corporate donation now doubles as its biggest billboard. The repurposed plane greets visitors to the Williamsport Regional Airport, including those who will attend the college's open house on Sunday, Oct. 26.

“One of our professors (Brian A. Flynn, assistant professor of graphic design) came to the senior class and requested a few volunteers to put together a design for the jet, and I was one of those that volunteered,” said 2013 alumnus Kyle R. Taylor, whose design was ultimately chosen. “Though I saw it as a great opportunity and looked forward to the challenge, it was definitely a struggle to find time for it among all my other class projects – and I really wasn't even sure my design would go through to production, to be honest.”

But go through, it did, incorporating inspirational words befitting a national educational leader – “goals,” “ambition” and “knowledge,” among them.

“When I began working on the project, I was told that the design needed to be innovative, modern, technology-related and have an emphasis on the motto ‘degrees that work,’” Taylor said. “With this information, I began putting together a few different ideas, and one that rose to the top for me was the idea of using intricate circuitry. I decided to move forward with this concept until it came to be the final design, after multiple revisions made based on feedback I'd received from faculty.”

When initially discussed, the project comprised no more than a few panels per side – enough to acknowledge the donation while rebranding the plane as a member of the college's instructional fleet of aircraft. By the time the design was approved, fine-tuned and implemented and the project completed, 56 panels ranging from 5- to 14-feelong were affixed to the plane.

“The 727 project is an outstanding example of what makes Penn College unique,” said Paul L. Starkey, vice president for academic affairs/provost. “Kyle Taylor’s design, guided by his program faculty, came to life at the hands of faculty and staff across campus. This generous gift by FedEx Express now becomes one of the most recognizable elements of Penn College academics.”

The process began with thoroughly washing the plane and wiping it down with an alcohol/water mix to provide for better adherence of the wrapping material.

Faculty and staff within the School of Transportation & Natural Resources Technologies – collision repair instructor Roy H. Klinger, aviation instructor Michael R. Robison, collision repair lecturer Shaun D. Hack and automotive toolroom attendant James W. Daniels as well as William H. Emerick, the aviation center’s maintenance worker – helped prep the surface and painstakingly paint over the FedEx logo that had adorned the tail in signature purple and orange.

Welders from the School of Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies also did their part, fashioning an adapter for a hitch so that a truck from the college’s light-duty diesel laboratory could maneuver the massive 727 to the job site.

Kevin P. Sullivan, lab coordinator for programs in the School of Sciences, Humanities & Visual Communications, oversaw the four-month wrap project, including the fabrication and application of the vinyl pieces.

“It took about 45 minutes to prep each panel: to output it, trim it, laminate it and trim it again,” he said, “and about 90 minutes per panel in application.”

The crew, which included graphic design lab assistants Timothy A. Miller and Sullivan's son, Alex B., a Penn State student home for the summer, used heat guns to shrink the vinyl around the seams and pop rivets on the plane's exterior, and hand-rubbing to work out creases and air bubbles.

And there was the little matter of cutting the panels to account for the three-dimensional realities of the plane's tail and the curvature of the nose section, a hurdle deftly cleared by assistant lab coordinator David E. Maurer.

“I knew we could do it; I certainly had confidence in that,” Kevin Sullivan said. “When we ran into some challenges with the 3-D aspect of it, I got a little antsy and worried. Once we changed the design to accept that, it became a fun project again.”

Additional complications were posed by working with adhesive-backed material on 80-degree days while quivering in the wind atop a lift 40 feet in the air. Still, Sullivan noted, only one panel was wasted.

The overall cost? Under $2,000, more durable and less expensive than had the entire plane been painted.

“Thank you to all who were involved in the process and who helped make this happen, especially those that had to print and apply the design to the jet,” Taylor said. “Otherwise, it'd still just be a file on my computer. I'm just very grateful for the opportunity, and it's awesome to know that so many people are going to be seeing this.”

From the admittedly uncharted waters of this project to the admirably unlimited boundaries of his career, Taylor has taken a graphic-design position with Schoolwires, a State College firm that designs websites for K-12 schools nationwide.

Back at Taylor’s alma mater, another group of Flynn's students will soon have a similar experience: The School of Transportation & Natural Resources Technologies has purchased a trailer to carry vintage vehicles to promote its automotive restoration technology major.

To learn more about the graphic design and art majors in the School of Sciences, Humanities & Visual Communications, visit www.pct.edu/art or call 570-327-4521.For more about aviation and other majors in the School of Transportation & Natural Resources Technologies, visit www.pct.edu/tnrt or call 570-327-4516.

For more information about Penn College, which is celebrating its centennial throughout 2014, visit www.pct.edu, email admissions@pct.edu or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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Last Updated September 02, 2014