Evyn Parnell watches intently as Grant Neilson demonstrates where the nuts and bolts go on the siding of an airplane.
Parnell is one of seven high school students learning how to build an airplane under the guidance of a group of mentors who are all trained pilots.
The class, called Teen Flight, meets Wednesday evenings and Saturdays at Sealand Aviation, just across from the Campbell River Airport terminal.
Five boys and two girls, from both Timberline and Carihi, are building a Vans aircraft RV12 – a two seat, 100 horsepower airplane.
Bill Alder, president of Sealand, said the students are learning how to assemble the plane, read maps, and follow instructions.
“They’re being taught how to deal with sheet metal, trimming and filing and dressing,” Alder said. “They’re assembling all the parts and reading from diagrams.”
At the same time, the students are earning credits towards graduation.
Alder figures it will take the teens up to a year and a half to finish the plane.
“Once we get through the first one, we’ll sell it and put it back into the program so we can continue the program,” Alder said.
The kit to build the plane cost $75,000 and Teen Flight is still looking for donors to help with the costs. Alder said he’s grateful to the community for its support during last month’s first annual Wings ’n Wheels show, which raised $5,700 for Teen Flight, but more is still needed.
While Campbell River’s program is the first of its kind in Canada, Teen Flight is already an established program in the United States. In Oregon, the program is in its fifth year and the students there are on their third airplane.
Alder said the last plane the students built sold within a week and fetched a cool $103,000 U.S.
Alder hopes the program here will be just as successful so that it can continue on.
Teen Flight began at Sealand in March as a way for Alder to engage youth in aviation.
The opportunity for Teen Flight fell into his hands after Sealand helped a pilot in Ocean Falls who needed a new engine. The pilot stopped by Sealand some time later and got to talking with Alder.
“I told him I was keen to get kids involved in aviation and he said ‘have I got a program for you,’” Alder recalled.
From there, the program took off. Alder approached some of the pilots he knew from working at the airport and recruited a group of mentors. Finding the kids wasn’t hard, either. Timberline agreed to run a ground school, which provided interested students with basic aviation instruction.
Colin Taberner, a pilot and Teen Flight mentor, who has noticed a decline in young people taking an interest in aviation, jumped at the chance to help with Teen Flight and get youth more involved.
“It’s all about the kids – we’re not building the airplane – it’s all about the experience,” Taberner said. “It’s really neat. It’s a fun thing. They’re learning all the skills associated with building an airplane – how to rivet, how to bend metal, how to read plans, teamwork. They will also be learning engine controls.”
The program is open to teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19, as long as they have taken the ground course.
“We just want kids to get involved in aviation,” said Alder, who is also looking for donors interested in sponsoring Teen Flight.