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ǿ Build A Plane takes to the skies!

In 2023, five retired volunteers helped seven students at ǿ to build an aircraft – in just six months!

Ken Charman, a former CEO and project manager, was the brainchild of the project alongside company director, engineering enthusiast, and long-term friend, Dave Karniewicz. Ken and Dave had built planes before and were excited at the prospect of giving young people the opportunity to learn the skills needed to work as a team and build something truly remarkable.

ǿ jumped at the idea of being able to offer such a unique and exciting enrichment project for students to work on alongside their studies. So, once DBS checks, safeguarding, health and safety, and security were all passed; and Ken produced a business case project plan, timeline and budget, ‘Build A Plane’ was born!

The Skyranger Swift 3 was the plane of choice. Ken explained: “It’s a highly respected plane and a relatively straightforward build. It comes supplied with all the parts in a box which all fit together without modifications. If you follow the very detailed and well-illustrated instructions and use up all the bits, you have a plane!” He continued: “It’s all nuts and bolts, with no welds or glue, and once it’s finished, it has a reputation for being safe and reliable.”.

The next step was to recruit a team of volunteers and mentors who had the relevant engineering skills and experience to pass on to the students. Ken reached out to local clubs and societies, including the North Devon Sports & Classic Car Club, to ask if any members would like to volunteer. Just 24 hours later and a fabulous team of retired engineers were ready to go!

Unfortunately, there were unforeseen hurdles at the start of the project due to the kit, which was coming from Ukraine, was held up. But Ken was on the case and geared the students up by purchasing a brand-new off-road buggy which he got students to dismantle, label the components and then put back together again. It was a fabulous introduction to the job ahead, and once the plane arrived, it was all hands on deck!

The build was divided into three workstreams: wings and wheels, fuselage, and instruments and electrics. Everything on the plane relied on the discipline, commitment and attention to detail of both student and volunteer.

The finished aircraft passed its final inspection in August 2023 and passed its test flight at the start of 2024 (after waiting some time for a clear weather window). After a very thorough pre-flight inspection, the team were happy to hear the words “It flies nice and smoothly. Well done.”.

At the start of the project, all the students sat in a circle to introduce themselves and state what their aspirations were – interestingly, none of them listed aviation as their passion. Fast forward just 12 months and one of them is studying aerospace engineering at university, and one is determined to pursue an aviation career in the Navy and plans to apply to the BMAA for a pilot training bursary. This is a true testament to the passion and enthusiasm of all involved.

Ken stressed, however, that without the support and inspiration of the fabulous volunteers and mentors, the project couldn’t have taken off the ground. He said: “All the volunteers agree that working with young people, seeing them develop over the course of a year and helping them as they approach their exams and job interviews, was the most rewarding aspect of the project”.

Ken and his crew intend to fly the plane and put in appearances at fates and charity events over the spring and summer, as well as hold an Open Day at RAF Chivenor, so keep an eye out in the skies above North Devon!

One of the most special outcomes of the project was the bond created between the team. Sadly, Dave Karniewicz passed away during the project, but it brought a lot of comfort to Dave’s family to see the Build A Plane students at his funeral. The students also requested that the plane be called ‘Karnie’s Kite’ in memory of dear Dave.

Jackie Theakston-Thomas, Faculty Manager for Digital, Engineering and Transportation at ǿ, summed up the project: “What a fantastic opportunity our learners had to be mentored by some highly skilled Engineers and project leads. They learnt valuable skills in working together in small and large teams and saw how the project took shape over a relatively short period of time”. She continued: “They came from different areas in the college but joined together to create a product that is now flight worthy and have made new friends for life. This was an excellent project that has made many learners stand out from the crowd in their future progression routes”. 

The next stage of the project is to sell the plane with any profits going to charity partners North Devon Hospice and Devon Air Ambulance.

We are immensely proud of the commitment and enthusiasm shown by both our volunteers and our students on achieving such a fantastic achievement, and to Ken for spearheading this very special project and giving a unique opportunity to so many.

Published

30 April 2024

Category

Students, College news

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