Thunderbird Chapter &  Rancho High School’s Aviation Academy



In Memory of     Thomas A. Plasterer

June 24, 1985 – September 14, 2014

1st Lt. Thomas Arthur Plasterer, U.S.A.F., retired

Tom Plasterer passed away Sept. 14 after a four year battle with brain cancer. He was born June 24, 1985 in Las Vegas to Warren and Doris Plasterer. He graduated from the Rancho High School Aerospace Program in 2003, where he was commander of the JROTC Color Guard and was on the cross country team. Tom earned his private pilot’s license while in high school.

 Tom obtained a degree in electrical engineering from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, AZ in 2007. He was commissioned into the United States Air Force, and learned to pilot KC135 refueling jets. Tom was medically retired in 2010.

 Tom married the love of his life, Alicia Hegie in July 2009. They lived in Denver, San Antonio, and eventually settled in Las Vegas.

 Thomas was preceded in death by his father Warren Plasterer. He is survived by his wife Alicia F. Plasterer and two year old son Nathaniel Owen Plasterer, parents Eric and Doris M. Knight, sister Melinda Johnson (Chase) and nephews Roman and Tristan, maternal grandparents Ervin and Ardis Hoffer, aunts Bonnie Brinkley and Nancy Tucker , niece Jessica Henson, nephews Christopher Altamirano, Tyler Ranous, and Shane Brinkley, in-laws George and LuAnn Hegie, and many wonderful friends.

Rancho Aviation Class of 2003

Paying It Back

article by Robert Cunningham,

 Thunderbird Chapter President

 Every once in a while something, or someone, comes to our attention that really makes us think and reflect on our view of things important. This is one of those stories….

There is Tom Plasterer, a young Air Force (now former) Lieutenant who is facing death from cancer, but is remembering his roots in success and will make a difference – no matter what…

 You see, in July of 2010, while on active duty, Tom was diagnosed with grade 4 brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme. It is an aggressive and deadly cancer with a very low survival rate. It formed in a part of his motor cortex such that the surgery to remove it disabled the left hand and arm of this young, skilled Air Force KC-135 pilot, resulting in 100% disability separation from his budding Air Force career. One could resent such a turn of fate, but instead, Tom wants to pay back…

Top Plasterer is a 2003 graduate of our own, Las Vegas, Rancho High School aviation magnet school program. While there, gaining his private pilot’s license was so important to him that he worked at Wal-Mart during the summers and school year to earn his own flying lesson funds that the Clark County School District could not cover. At the same time, he also earned a full-ride scholarship at Embry-Riddle for electrical engineering. A real catch for our Air Force, upon college graduation in 2007, Tom completed pilot training in October 2008 before upgrading to the KC-135 Stratotanker. He was living his dream to fly…

Today, after a drastically shortened Air Force career, and facing the probable shortened life with his beautiful wife, Alicia, herself a Rancho medical program graduate and Air Force officer completing her internship as a psychologist at Wilford Hall in San Antonio, Tom wants to give back. He has offered to pay for the last flying hours for a deserving student in the Rancho aviation program.

Perhaps we should consider joining Tom in that cause. These are young people that so often go on to make a difference for our nation – the same as motivated our quest to join and serve…

10/22/14 AFA Tom Plasterer Memorial Scholarship Presentation

L/R Jacob Bottita, Austin Moncrief, Alicia Plasterer, Bob Cunningham and Tyler Gehrig


Thunderbird Chapter established the Tom Plaster Scholarship after  learning of Tom’s story when he contacted the  Aviation Academy to help finically struggling students complete their private pilots licenses. Using this young officers courage and generosity as our guide, the Chapter began to look inward in how we could help keep Tom’s desire to help young pilots alive.

As we awarded the third year of scholarships his story will be kept alive in our hearts as we strive to introduce a new group of pilots each year to his courage and perseverance.

                                                                                                                                                           2013   James Burleson and Bob Herculson
2012  L/R   Bob Cunningham, Dustin Mckie , Dominic Clark , Cory Brooks and Bruce Quinn 


CyberPatriot is the premiere national high school cyber defense competition created to inspire high school students toward careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines critical to our nation’s future.

CP New Video Release

Chapter 189 Education Activities….    


Teacher of the Year Awards


Along with grants and scholarships, the Air Force Association believes that recognizing those who educate America’s youth is an important aspect of what AFA is all about. AFA chapters nationwide work very hard to insure our youth receive education in math and the sciences and that those who teach and support the educators are recognized. AFA’s prestigious award presented annually to the educator who has gone “the extra mile” to increase student interest in math, science and technology.

  • Click here to view the most recent winner of the National Teacher of the Year Award.
  • Click here to view the Previous Winners of the National Teacher of the Year Award.

Chapter Teacher of the Year Award

A local award designed for AFA to recognize exceptional performance in education at the local level.

  • Click here to view the Winners of the AFA Chapter Teacher of the Year Award.


K-12 Grants

 “Ways to Use AFA Programs … for AFA States & Chapters”Educator GrantsEducator Grants provide up to $250 per academic year in support to elementary and secondary classrooms for aerospace education programs, opportunities, and activities when no support is currently available.
View the Educator Grant winnersAir Force Junior ROTC GrantsThe Air Force Junior ROTC Grant is funded by the Air Force Association and managed by Air Force JROTC Headquarters.
View the AFJROTC Grant winnersCivil Air Patrol Unit GrantsThe Civil Air Patrol Unit Grant is funded by AFA and managed by Civil Air Patrol Headquarters.
View the Unit Grant winnersCivil Air Patrol Aerospace Educator GrantsThe Civil Air Patrol Educator Grant is funded by AFA and managed by Civil Air Patrol Headquarters.
View the Civil Air Patrol Educator Grant winnersChapter Matching GrantsThe Chapter matching Grant program is designed to promote aerospace education activities at the AFA chapter level. The program allows AFA National to reward aggressive chapters with annual grants for creating/promoting community educational activities and events in math and sciences.
View a Chapter Matching Grant example.

AFA Scholarships


Pitsenbarger Awards

Pitsenbarger Awards provide a one-time grant of $400 to selected top active duty, Guard and Reserve USAF enlisted personnel graduating from the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) who plan to pursue a baccalaureate degree. The grants coincide with the CCAF graduation ceremonies held each spring and fall.
View the Pitsenbarger Award Recipients.

Spouse Scholarships

The Air Force Spouse Scholarship program is designed to encourage Air Force spouses worldwide to pursue associate/bachelor undergraduate or graduate/postgraduate degrees.
View the Spouse Scholarship Winners.

 Cadet Award Packages

Each year, each detachment, squadron or unit may select one outstanding cadet of the year. The Air Force Association (AFA) is proud to support these accomplished cadets with an award package containing a medal, ribbon and certificate.

JROTC and ROTC Cadets:

AFA will automatically send an award package to each ROTC detachment and each JROTC unit based on a data file received from ROTC HQ. Packages are mailed in January.

Civil Air Patrol Squadron Cadets:

The squadron commander may request an award package during the December – January timeframe. To receive an award package, click here for a document (which was prepared by CAP HQ).

Click here for Cadet Medal Criteria.

The point of contact for cadet award packages is:

Lynette Cross
Manager, National Aerospace Awards
Air Force Association
1501 Lee Highway
Arlington, VA 22209-1190
Phone: 703-247-5800 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 703-247-5800 end_of_the_skype_highlighting Ext. 4807
Fax: 703-247-5853

Visions of Exploration

A Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) Program


USA TODAY Education and the Air Force Association’s 200+ Chapters are celebrating their 21st of partnership this year. From the beginning we have impacted nearly 13 Million students guided by approximately 24,000 teachers who enhance students’ skills in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and aerospace education.

This year classrooms may choose the regular print copy of USA TODAY, or e-Visions, which is the online version.

Program Components:

  • Weekly Inside USA Today e-newsletter
  • Standard driven STEM lesson plans available on
  • Provides teachers a range of multidisciplinary activities tied to each day’s news events
  • Makes available additional aerospace activities to the teacher’s
  • Provides letters ready to be sent to the teachers and home to parents welcoming them to the program