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Former WWII Pilot Donates $8 Million to Polk’s Aerospace Academy

By John Chambliss

Published: Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 8:35 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 8:35 a.m.

LAKELAND | A former World War II bomber pilot and successful businessman is donating $7.5 million for a building to house the Central Florida Aerospace Academy operated by the Polk County School District.


School and Sun ‘n Fun officials announced the gift this morning and said construction will start this month, with plans to finish it by spring 2011.

The academy, which already operates at Sun ‘n Fun at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport, will be able to accommodate up to 500 students once the new building is completed.

The academy currently has 120 students housed in three portables at the airport. It is associated with Kathleen High School.

The money is being given by James Ray through a non-profit organization called the Aviation Education Foundation of Naples. The donation comes with another $500,000 to help furnish and equip the building.

Ray was described today as a pilot with 70 years of flying experience. He flew B-17 Flying Fortress bombers during World War II and later became a successful rancher, oil man and real estate development, according to information provided during the announcement.