By Libby Martucci For The Herald Business Journal
ARLINGTON — It’s not every day high school students get to brag that they built an airplane from start to finish in two weeks.
But that’s what four teenagers from Sunrise Mountain High School in Las Vegas get to do.
And Glasair Aviation in Arlington is a large part of that.
Alberto Carlos Alvarado, Joshua Carlson, Kenneth Ellis and Jose Rodriguez Jr. were the winners of an aviation-based competition. The prize was the opportunity to build a Glasair Sportsman over two weeks, lodging and tours of local aviation companies.
The competition is run by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and Build A Plane, a nonprofit organization that helps bring aviation and aerospace education to schools.
“During this competition I learned a lot about aviation, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in the future, but now I am sure I want to be a pilot,” said Joshua Carlson, a sophomore.
The Aviation Design Challenge was created to promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education among schools in the United States.
This is the second year of this competition and 79 schools from 33 states, including two from Washington, participated in the “virtual fly-off.”
“They learned lessons about STEM and were given aerospace and aviation curricula. At the end of the process, they were given software to design and fly a virtual airplane,” said Mary Lynn Rynkiewicz, director of communications for GAMA.
The software used for the competition was created by Fly to Learn, which provides a virtual aviation experience to teach students.
In the competition, each school virtually modified a Glasair Sportsman airplane to fly from one airport to another, and was scored on payload, fuel usage and flight time.
The students also were required to submit an essay about their experience with STEM education.
Once selected, the students were flown to Western Washington on June 16 to build an airplane over two weeks.
Glasair supplied the facility for the build plus two weeks’ worth of staff to instruct the students. The students worked from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
“It’s a very intense program,” said Nigel Mott, Glasair’s president. “It’s good to have kids with lots of energy; they can usually hang in there.”
Glasair manufactures the GlaStar and Sportsman aircraft kits along with other aircraft components.
Mott said his company’s product is simple to understand. “It’s like those little model kits that you can buy and build at home. Same idea but it’s a real aircraft.”
The company operates out of a 30,000-square-foot facility at the Arlington Municipal Airport and employs around 35 people.
In 2007, Glasair started the “Two Weeks to Taxi” program, which allows builders to come and spend two weeks at their Customer Assembly Center. This is where they can build their aircraft with all the tools and mounts necessary, alongside professionals. At the end of two weeks, they have a fully functional aircraft.
“This program is unique, there is no one else in the world that offers it,” Mott said.
The four-place aircraft’s base model cost about $189,000 but typically planes go out the door for between $225,000 to $250,000.
Glasair, Boeing, Jeppesen and Piper are some of the aviation companies interested in involving youth in aviation.
In terms of the competition Mott had this to say: “It’s important for our company to show that we are supporting youth in aviation, and I think there is a lot of opportunities in this industry.”
At the end of these two weeks, the students will be able to see the aircraft they built being fired up and running.
The Federal Aviation Administration has to inspect the aircraft fully before it can be used in flight, but once that happens Glasair will fly the airplane to Las Vegas so the students who built it can ride in it.
Rynkiewicz said GAMA is also posting pictures of the build each day on its Facebook page so people can watch as the plane is being built.
“(The students) are having a great time so far. It’s really great to see because this build is not something where the professionals do it and the kids watch. It’s the exact opposite,” she said.
And the experience will hopefully last a lifetime.
“This competition is here to ultimately open students eyes to the many career possibilities in general aviation. Everything from engineering to being a pilot, and also the manufacturing side of things,” said Rynkiewicz.
For more information on general aviation and the competition visit GAMA’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/General.Aviation.Manufacturers.Association or email STEMcompetition@gama.aero.