Ryder Wahlsmith, a rising senior at Lakewood Ranch High School, is used to painting, polishing and detailing cars in his Automotive Collision Technology program at Manatee Technical College.
But for the past three weeks, Wahlsmith has been painting a plane for Teen Aircraft Factory of Manasota, a Sarasota nonprofit with the mission to help teens find their passions, introduce them to aviation and teach them how to build a two-seat airplane from a kit.
This is the second plane MTC students have painted for Teen Aircraft Factory of Manasota.
Shane Baxley, the instructor of the Automotive Collision Technology program, said students learn skills in refinishing, body repair, fiberglass work, metal welding, paint systems and more.
Those skills prepare students to not only be able to work on cars but also airplanes, fire trucks and other vehicles.
Wahlsmith chose to dual enroll in MTC’s Automotive Collision Technology program because he likes working on cars and hopes to someday open his own automotive shop.
He didn’t expect to walk into the workshop at MTC to find a plane, but he said the experience has been "cool."
Maura Howl, the supervisor for communications and grants management for MTC, said the plane project is a service project for MTC students so they can use the skills they’ve learned to give back to the community.
Being able to paint a plane teaches Wahlsmith a new skill set as painting aluminum is different from painting steel cars.
“There’s other procedures to get it prepared properly,” Wahlsmith said. “It has to be (almost perfect) because if there’s too much paint, it can throw off the weight of the plane and cause it to not fly properly. It’s a little more stressful, but it’s a good challenge and fun to do.”
Baxley said students learn how to acid clean the plane, put the proper epoxies on it, treat aluminum and weigh the paint so it is even.
“[The plane] keeps students from the regular work on a bumper or fender,” Baxley said. “We work on cars that have been in accidents. It gives them experience with something unique. You’re dealing with something that’s not a 1999 Honda bumper, it’s a $150,000 brand new plane with sensitive instrument panels, sensors, radars and other aviation stuff.”
Howl said the plane is the only opportunity students will have to create something from scratch because the cars that come into the shop are already painted.
Once the plane is complete by the end of June, Wahlsmith and the other students will have the opportunity to fly in the plane with Teen Aircraft Factory of Manasota students.
“I’ve been looking forward to just being able to fly in a plane that I painted and see how it works,” Wahlsmith said. “It’ll be a cool experience.”