Over the past decade, and thanks to the support of several companies based at the Aurora State Airport, many Oregon teens have had the opportunity to build an airplane. Not a remote-controlled airplane or a paper airplane, but an actual, real-life airplane that can carry them into the skies.
Dick VanGrunsven, founder of Van’s Aircraft, started the TeenFlight program in 2009 with the desire to give students the same opportunity to build planes that had changed his own life in high school. That year, a group of high school students started building an RV-12 at the Van’s factory based out of the Aurora Airport.
The plane is one of the company’s kit planes, a two-seater that each student gets to fly in when the project is completed. Finished planes are then sold, funding the next build.
Since the program began, five planes have been built by students, each taking about a year and a half to complete with the help of mentors. Two more planes are in construction, with one almost ready to fly — but awaiting safe working conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Most students begin with no experience or skills needed to take on the build. More importantly, students learn life skills such as teamwork and leadership throughout this process.
This is a program that truly changes students’ lives, says John Davis, one student who has participated in this project. He now works work at the Van’s Aircraft’s Aircraft Assembly Division building RV-12iS airplanes, with plans to take his instrument check ride in the fall and become a commercial pilot.
“I have made a lot of great friends and connections in the aviation world,” John says. “Huge thanks to Airway Science, EAA 105, and Van’s Aircraft; I would not be where I am today if not for the opportunities provided by these folks.”
Other Aurora airport businesses and partners that support the TeenFlight program include Aron Faegre, of Aron Faegre Architects, and Ted Millar, Southend Corporate Airpark. They say programs are opportunities to help foster the next generation of pilots, mechanics, technicians, innovators and aviation enthusiasts.
TeenFlight is a program within Airway Science for Kids Inc., which has aviation programs for all ages of children.
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