Thirteen-year-old Connor Flick and 14-year-old Steele Harris have made a commitment to learn to fly.
The teens spend their Saturdays in an airplane hangar surrounded by every tool imaginable. Charts, instructions, wires and bolts lie scattered across various tables as the children study them alongside Experimental Aircraft Association members. The teens and EAA members are building an RV-12 out of an airplane kit.
Connor and Steele are just two of the youth interested in the ins and outs of what it takes, not just to fly a plane, but to also build one.
“When you are a pilot, you just fly,” says Steele. “When you are building it, you see the bare bones of the inside of the plane and you see how everything works together and get a better feel for it.”
The idea for the plane-building project started with the Young Eagles Program. The national program, which started in July 1992, teaches children about aviation and airplane safety. The goal is to introduce youth to flying. It became particularly enticing with the promise of a free flight at the end of the program.
EAA Chapter 180, the Sarasota chapter, takes children through the Young Eagles Program every third Saturday of the month. But, because the members wanted to keep children involved in aviation after they received their Young Eagles certification, they sought a more in-depth project — building a working airplane with community youth.
So, six of the EAA members formed a corporation, RV-12 Inc., and pitched in to purchase the $60,000 airplane kit from Van’s Aircraft. Next, they recruited students at area schools. The plane building began in January 2012 with 12 interested teens and pre-teens.
Because a few of the EAA members are flight instructors, they agreed to give participants a one-hour flight lesson for every 25 hours they spend building the airplane.
This helps the teens and pre-teens to receive a sport pilot license from the Federal Aviation Administration; they need at least 20 hours of flight time. A bonus of building the plane is that future pilots have the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of a plane they will eventually be able to fly.
Due to the summer months, hectic schedules and loss of patience for such a long project, many of the 12 students have left the program. Steele and Connor have stuck it out.
After dedicating more than 100 hours to building the plane, Steele and Connor say they have learned many lessons, including commitment.
“It takes passion to wake up at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning when you can do anything else,” Steele says.
The EAA member mentors continue to be a motivating factor for him.
“They are here for you if you need help,” he says. “They are going to show you how to do it the right way, and they won’t tell you to go do something else because you don’t know how.”
Members expect to have the RV-12 in the air by December.
“I think it’s an excellent thing for any child to broaden their horizon. This is a precise way to learn new skills and it is a wide, diverse facet,” says Dieter Flick, Connor’s father and EAA Chapter 180 member.“Building an airplane is not only learning technique but also learning how everything works together,” says Flick. “It has mechanical, aerodynamic and electric aspects. (The teens) learn a large variety of skills putting it together and about the design and functionality of an airplane,” says Flick.
Category: Light sport aircraft; two-seat, all-metal, side-by-side airplane
Fastest cruising speed: 120 knots, or 138 miles per hour
Fuel capacity: 20 gallons; it can fly for about 4.5 hours without refueling
Weight: 740 pounds; gross weight 1,320 pounds
Those interested in getting involved can contact Martin Sobel at 539-4806.
Contact Yaryna Klimchak at [email protected].