NBA team donates plane to collegeA string of students from Northland Community and Technical College toured their new “classroom” Friday morning. “I don’t follow basketball, but I’ll start rooting for the Pistons now,” said one of the students as he strolled through.
By: By Chris Bieri , Forum Communications Co. , The Jamestown Sun
THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. — A string of students from Northland Community and Technical College toured their new “classroom” Friday morning.
“I don’t follow basketball, but I’ll start rooting for the Pistons now,” said one of the students as he strolled through.
That’s because that new “classroom” was actually a DC-9 airplane donated to the Northland Community & Technical College Foundation by the Detroit Pistons NBA basketball team.
“Who wouldn’t love sitting in leather seats every day for class?” asked Northland Dean of Workforce and Economic Development Jim Retka as he walked through the plane.
The plane, dubbed Roundball One, arrived at the Thief River Falls Airport from Detroit just before 10:30 a.m. after a two hour flight from Detroit.
It will be permanently grounded for use as a learning tool by the students in Northland’s aerospace programs.
Piece of history
“There’s absolutely nothing on this aircraft we do not teach in our aviation maintenance technology program,” said Biggi Haraldsson the school’s aviation program director, “from avionics to the engines and all the airframe systems.”
“It’s a tremendous asset. I’m extremely thankful to the Northland Foundation to get this opportunity,” he said.
Dan Klug, executive director of the foundation, said the process of getting the plane began almost a year ago after a tip from Don Dubuque in the University of North Dakota Aerospace Department. The Northland foundation negotiated with the Pistons ownership group, but the team was sold over the summer, putting the transfer on hold.
Klug continued to stay in contact with the new ownership group, which decided in favor of the donation a few months ago.
According to crew member Dennis Heinze, the plane was built in 1978, purchased by the Pistons in 1998, renovated and used by the team until April 2010.
When it was the Pistons team plane, it carried the club to six consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference finals and a pair NBA Finals appearances, including a championship in 2004.
When the Pistons got a new MD-20 for the 2010-11 season, the original Roundball One was grounded.
Getting the plane from Detroit to Grand Forks took some doing.
It hadn’t been flown in almost two years, leading to some trepidation from pilot Steve Haggard, who headed a three-man crew.
Klug said the team had deferred some of the scheduled maintenance on the aircraft, including some de-icing measures and initially needed nearly-perfect conditions to get the plane to the Northland campus.
“I had some concerns,” Haggard said. “We couldn’t have any contact with clouds. On lift off I was a little nervous. I was happy to get over Lake Michigan.”
Both sides had hoped to deliver the plane by Christmas time, but the conditions were never right. Eventually, the Pistons decided to make some of the necessary upgrades to get the plane.
“We can’t express our gratitude for the Pistons,” Klug said. “They were just so generous to work with us and even covering the expense of getting it here. The value of the plane and how it will help our college and the airline industry as a whole is great. Plus it’s a significant piece of sports history.”
Klug said Northland is scheduled to receive donation paperwork from the Pistons and then the school will issue the organization a receipt it can use for tax purposes if it wants.
The school has around 20 airplanes in its fleet, including a recent addition of a model of a Global Hawk Block 10.
But Haraldsson said students were especially excited about the prospect of working on the Roundball One. “They’ve been jumping up and down like it’s Christmas time for the last couple of weeks.”
Chris Bieri is a reporter at
the Grand Forks Herald,
which is owned by Forum