OSHKOSH — Every Wednesday evening the EAA Chapter 252 hangar is buzzing with activity as a group of builders work on assembling a Van’s RV-12iS airplane.
What’s unique about this group of builders is that they are all between the ages of 14 and 18. Under the mentorship of a group of volunteers from Chapter 252, these teens are learning the necessary skills to construct an amateur-built aircraft.
The network of chapters is the backbone of the Experimental Aircraft Association headquartered in Oshkosh and it’s through the chapters that programming and support takes place.
EAA Chapter 252 has a hangar at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh and meets monthly for gatherings that are both social and educational.
Outreach and education also are a huge part of EAA and EAA Chapters.
The Young Eagles program provides discovery flights to youth ages 8 – 17 where volunteer pilots donate their time, aircraft and fuel to take kids on a flight.
Chapters also look for other ways to support pilots, amateur aircraft builders “homebuilders,” aviation enthusiasts and future pilots.
About two years ago, Chapter 252 began exploring the idea of starting a Teen Aircraft Build program.
Charlie Becker, past president of Chapter 252 and Communities Director at EAA approached my husband, John, and I with the idea of leading the project. Both of us have been involved in chapter leadership, youth programs, and Young Eagles with our chapter for the last decade.
We are both private pilots, and John has experience with homebuilding. I was a career educator, (retired from Kaukauna Area School District) and John and engineer (retired from and past owner at Baisch Engineering) and having recently retired it seemed like we had the time, interests, and skills to take this on.
The goal of the Teen Aircraft Build program was to involve youth in aviation at a deep level.
The focus was older teens (high school age) who would work with chapter mentors to learn aircraft building skills.
The group would also provide a place to foster relationships with peers and adults with a common interest in aviation. In addition to growing technical skills and expertise, the teens would learn time management, collaboration, problem solving, productive struggle, perseverance, and more about aviation.
Building an airplane takes time, so teens (and volunteer mentors) would need to commit to the project, prioritize their time, and see a long term project from inception to completion.
We contacted other EAA Chapters who have had or currently have Teen Aircraft Build programs. Last year at AirVenture a couple of those programs flew their completed aircraft to AirVenture for the first time and we got to see their aircraft and learn about their programs.
We were able to purchase a kit from EAA (they had a surplus kit from a previous One Week Wonder project) and recruited some kids, so we were ready to get started.
Participants must be between the ages of 14 and 18 and could be from anywhere in the Oshkosh area. Our current group of teens are from Oshkosh, Menasha, and Kaukauna.
The Van’s RV-12iS is an aluminum, 2 place aircraft. It can fly under the category of Light Sport, which makes it a very versatile general aviation aircraft. It has detailed plans and the pop rivet design lends itself to an amateur teen build program.
The group meets weekly on Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and started meeting in August 2022.
No building or flying experience was required, just a common love of aviation. It’s been fun and fulfilling to watch the growth of these young people in the months that we’ve been meeting.
They have become a bonded team and look to one another to answer questions and work together. We have a core group of adult mentors from our chapter who come weekly to help the teens. Dennis Moehn is a lead instructor in the FVTC A&P aviation mechanic program and Eric Abraham is a flight instructor and experienced Van’s builder who is completing the build of a Van’s RV-10. Several other volunteers join us from week to week. All of these volunteers want to support the next generation in aviation.
The teens say that this is the one place they go that they have peers who love aviation as much as they do. In addition to working on the project, they have a chance to talk to each other and to the adults about flight training, college and career opportunities, and other aspects of aviation.
Recently, we took a break from our building to provide Young Eagle flights to the participants. Volunteer pilots – some of whom are the mentors who work with the teens weekly – took the teens up for a flight over Oshkosh.
Three of the teens are currently taking flight lessons, and the others also have an interest in learning to fly, so they were definitely excited to have a chance to get up in the air. The volunteer pilots did a preflight inspection of the aircraft, briefed the teens on the flight, and during the flight each teen had the opportunity to take the controls.
This is a long-term project. We anticipate that it will take another year or two to complete the aircraft, but we don’t have a specific timeline. We’ll take a summer break in July and August, then resume our sessions in late August. The aircraft will be for sale, with the proceeds of the sale being used to recoup the investment by the chapter for the kit, engine and avionics.
Any additional proceeds may be used as seed money to fund the next project. Ideally, we would love to see an individual, group of individuals, buy the aircraft and establish a flying club in Oshkosh that also offers instruction.
There is a huge national need for pilots, and also a shortage of instructors and training aircraft.
I agree with Ralph Waldo Emerson when he said, “It’s not the destination, but the journey.” While I am certainly excited to see this airplane completed and flying, spending the time each week with these teens is exceedingly gratifying. It is a privilege to get to know these teens and to provide them with support in their aviation journeys.
Aviation opportunities abound and these kids have bright futures, but even if they ultimately choose a path completely different from aviation, the bonds they make, the relationships they build, and the skills they learn will be something they take with them no matter what their future holds.
Follow the progress of the build at the Builders Logbook (link HERE).
Interested in Young Eagle flights for youth ages 8 – 17? Look for events in your area and register on the Young Eagles website (link HERE). Young Eagle flights are also available at the EAA Museum during the summer (no flights during AirVenture) out of Pioneer Airport (more info HERE).
AirVenture is coming up July 24 – 30, 2023. Admission for young people up to the age of 18 is FREE. For more information on youth admission, or to purchase adult admission, check out the link HERE.
Learn more about Van’s Aircraft (link HERE).