Students find their wings building an aeroplane


St Columban's College Aero Club students have built the tail-end of the aircraft since February.​

​Eighteen St Columban's College Aero Club students were proud to show honoured guests around their workshop in the last week of term, as they set off on a mission to build a full-scale, kit version of an industry-certified Van's RV-12iS aircraft.  

Mentored by not-for-profit Flight Youth Engineering specialists, the students began the mission in February this year as part of a co-curriculum partnership two years in the making. 

St Columban's College Principal Michael Connolly said the project aimed to make aviation exciting and accessible to all students.   

“When we talk about upskilling the next generation and bringing real industry experience to students – well here it is in practice … it doesn't get much more real than this," Mr Connolly said.  

“Eighteen young people, eight engineers, building an aeroplane on a Wednesday afternoon – in what is one of the most innovative STEM initiatives in Australia."  

The first aircraft is expected to take up to 18 months to complete.  

Flight Youth Engineering co-director, private pilot and aircraft chief builder Ashley Miller said the construction process with the students starts with building the essential skills.  

“The very first time our students drill holes in our aeroplane kit, it takes three people – one person with the drill, and two others spotting at 90 degrees to make sure the drill is perfectly straight," Ashley said.  

“These are skills that don't come ordinarily to anybody. Not everybody has picked up a cordless drill and drilled a hole, especially on an aircraft. They're very expensive components and we go to great lengths to make sure we preserve them and teach the students correctly."  

Once fully built, the aircraft will be kept for a short period to allow the students to gain experience in maintenance. It will then be subsequently sold into the Australian aviation market for general use in the industry, with the sale of the aeroplane providing funding for the next aircraft building project.  

Ashley said the Van's aircraft model had been chosen specifically because it's a FAR part 23 designed and certified aircraft produced commercially by Van's Aircraft. 

“We don't compromise with our student programs – we want full industry engagement. And to get to that level, we must take a highly engineered product and that's where a Van's kit aircraft comes in," Ashley said.   

“It also has a lot of built-in safety designs which our suppliers and supporters want to see."  

“We'll be using the latest avionics and all the safety enhancements that come with it. The product we're building will be top-of-the-line," Ashley said.  

Mr Connolly said the students are not only gaining the opportunity to be a part of the aviation industry, but they're also gaining life skills.  

“With this program, we're helping to build the next generation of young people who are professional, skilled trainees ready to work. It doesn't have to be in aviation … their knowledge and real-world experience in project management, teamwork, communication, creativity, leadership, as well as in areas of STEM and engineering can be applied across multiple industries."  

The passionate aviation enthusiasts were also given the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of aviation's best … including pilots and engineers from the Australian Defence Force, Airbus, QANTAS and Virgin Australia, along with one of Australia's esteemed aviation experts, multi-book author and theory training school owner Bob Tait.  

Mr Connolly said initiatives like this program brought communities together.  

“There would be more than 100 years of combined aviation experience provided by the engineering mentors in the aircraft workshop each Wednesday," said Mr Connolly.  

“What they are doing is creating a gift … the gift of knowledge and passing this onto the students."   

The program is not possible without the support of community and business donations.  

“We're asking businesses to get behind the students and help sponsor the next part of the build – to help buy the engine and electronics, so this aircraft can have its first flight," Mr Connolly said.  

For more information about supporting the Aero Club project please contact Simone Buckingham at St Columban's College on 07 5495 3111.  

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