Having recently celebrated its first anniversary, Campbell River’s Teen Flight program has motivated students, dedicated mentors and a donated space in which to work.
All it lacks is a flight-ready airplane.
“If money was no issue, we could have this thing flying by the end of summer,” volunteer Grant Neilson said as students sanded and buffed the fuselage and cockpit frame of a small kit plane at SeaLand Aviation’s airport hangar Wednesday night.
To that end, the program will host its second annual Wings and Wheels show July 11 at the airport, a fundraiser designed to try to secure the final pieces of the RV-12 kit plane from Van’s Aircraft of Aurora, Oregon.
Teen Flight began last spring as a joint effort between School District 72 and local aviation enthusiasts, led by SeaLand owner Bill Alder. While not run as a traditional credited class, the after-hours program offers secondary school students the opportunity to learn the basics of airplane construction, maintenance and operation.
“The real goal is to get people interested in aviation,” said Alder. “When I started out, those of us who got into it were really passionate, but it’s really fallen off in recent years.”
Teen flight builds off a ground school program already available through the school district, and with an eye toward creating a bridge to North Island College’s Aircraft Structures Technician program, the only one of its kind on Vancouver Island.
Through donations from business, service groups and individuals, the program committed to the purchase and construction of one of Van’s Aircraft light sport airplanes. Prefabricated in pieces in Van’s Aurora factory, the kits are shipped in sections and assembled by the buyer.
“You learn a lot of the tools you need, how to work with your hands and how much work goes into building a plane,” said Brody Gimson, who just wrapped up his Grade 10 year at Timberline Secondary.”
Gimson is among the students who hopes one day to fly, and will embark on a six-week program beginning this weekend to earn his glider’s license.
“(Teen Flight) is a lot more about the technical side,” he said. “I might learn how to fix my own plane.”
Nick Askey, who grew up near the airport in Bella Coola and whose grandfather was a pilot, plans to start aviation training after high school and eventually get his license to fly. In the meantime, the Teen Flight program has provided an eye-opener into what goes on behind the scenes.
“I didn’t realize how much work you had to put in — and the quality of the work,” he said.
Not all of the students in the Teen Flight program intend to become pilots.
Evyn Parnell, another Grade 10 from Timberline, find the construction aspects of Teen Flight right up his alley.
“I has some interest in trying to become a helicopter pilot, but I just like technology in general,” he said. “I want to do mechanics.”
Julia Deal, a Grade 11 student who had little interest in mechanical work, was drawn into the program after being asked to produce advertising for Teen Flight at Timberline.
“I just thought it sounded cool,” she said. “I like working with my hands, but I’m a bit more academically oriented.”
Deal said she had become fascinated by building “something from nothing,” and learning the mechanics of it. But she is unlikely to seek a pilot’s license or a job as a mechanic.
“I’d be more likely to go into aircraft engineering,” she said.
So far, Teen Flight’s students and mentors have assembled the empanage, or tail section, the fuselage and the wings.
Next week, they will take possession of the “finishing” kit, which includes landing gear, fuel tank and the plexiglass canopy.
That will still leave the avionics — the flight controls, gauges and wires — and the 100-horsepower Rotax 912ULS engine.
“We’re up to the expensive part of the program now,” said Alder.
“The labour’s cheap,” Neilson quipped, pointing to fellow mentors Marcel Van Zeeland, Tim Everets and Bill Phipps sanding one of the plane’s removable wings.
So is the rent, with Alder donating space in SeaLand’s hangar among the planes belonging to his paying customers.
And, once Teen Flight passes through its current funding turbulence, the program should have a smooth ride.
“Once it’s fully funded and built, it’s perpetual,” mentor Joe Crawshaw said. “We can sell it and use the money to buy the next kit.”
The program encourages interested students to sign up or learn more about the program, which meets at SeaLand Wednesdays from 7-9 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. There are no fees to join.
“For anyone interested in mechanics and engineering,” I think it would be a good choice,” said Gimson.
To sign up, contact Bill Alder at SeaLand, 250-923-9858, or Natalie Crawshaw at SD72, 250-830-2302 or firstname.lastname@example.org. More information on the program and the Wings and Wheels fundraiser can be found at teenflight.ca.