Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Kitset plane far from child's play for students • Two-year build a lesson in persistence

Danny Little, left, Alan Caudwell, Morgan Frost and Mike Cole attach a wing to a Vans RV-12 aricraft that a group of college students has been building for more than two years at Nelson Airport.  MARTIN DE RUYTER/ Fairfax NZ

It's like a complex lego build on steroids, but with much higher stakes.

A group of young Nelson students has spent the past two years building a kitset aeroplane.

The mission has been a lesson in persistence and patience, and on Saturday the students and their mentors celebrated the milestone moment of attaching the Van's RV12's wings to the craft.

Students started when they were at college, toiling to decode the plans and fix the pieces together on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings.

The kitset plane was imported from the United States in five wooden boxes by longtime aviator Alan Caudwell, of the The Copter Shop.

Caudwell, and his partner Julja Vogt, were in the States a few years back and met students who had put a similar plane together. Struck with how passionate the youngsters were about the project, they decided to import a similar plane to help Nelson students gain insight into aviation engineering.

Caudwell bought an RV-12 kit from Van's Aircraft.

The project, which started in 2012, was initially run with the different colleges, but Caudwell said that had been frustrating at times. However, a core group of students had stuck with the project, with others joining in along the way.

The project was supported by a number of different local business sponsors and mentors from people working in the aviation industry in Nelson also gave up their Saturdays on a regular basis. Retired aviation engineer Mike Cole was also a big part of the project.

Two young men who had worked on the plane were now studying aviation through Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology in Blenheim.

Caudwell said the project taught practical engineering skills and plan reading skills that he believed was missing at college.

"It surprises the hell out of me that anybody wants anybody that comes from the school.

"I've talked to a lot of people and the one thing that seems to be lacking in the schools is the ability for kids to translate technical information and put it into practical use."

Those who had come through the programme could hopefully now read plans and not have to have employees standing over them, he said.

When the plane was finished the students involved wanted to have a go flying it, and he would sell it.

He estimated the plane would sell in the $100,000 range and said it had cost about $130,000 to this point.

"To see these guys now with it coming together, they are quite delighted by it. To start with [the project] was a bit of a hard row."

Harrison Carver, 19, has been involved since the start. He now has an apprenticeship at Repaircraft. He said the project was fantastic and he had learnt a lot.

"I've got a job out of it."

He initially wanted to be a pilot, but working on the plane had "got me hooked into engineering. I was interested in everything aviation pretty much".

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