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Engineering program takes off

Posted: 12pm 17 Sep 2021

Every Wednesday, a group of St Columban’s College students and their mentors head to the workshop, where they are carefully constructing an aeroplane. The Caboolture school is the first to do it in Australia as part of the Flight Youth Engineering program.

The college opened the workshop on September 15 to give invited guests a behind the scenes tour of their work.

The program brings 18 students who are studying either engineering or aerospace together with eight mentors to build a two-seat VANS RV-12iS training aircraft.

Flight Youth Engineering is overseen by local directors Paul Reddish, Ashley Miller and Michael Allen, who is based in New South Wales.

The program provides the aeroplane kit and mentors and will sell the aircraft, when it is finished to fund the next kit.

“We’re trying to turn them into their own manufacturing plant for this type of product and along the way we’re seeing they’re getting all this experience they would never get – hands on,” Paul says.

“Because we cover so many topics within the construction of the aircraft, they come from all different fields. Some of them will want to be pilots, some of them will want to be aircraft engineers, or civil engineers. They get hands-on experience here.”

Paul and Ashley visited schools in the US who were building the aeroplanes in 2019 and spoke with directors running the program there.

“The big takeaway we got from it was all the students, when they apply for university, a job or a cadetship somewhere … lots of kids have similar results but they’re the ones who have built an aircraft,” Ashley says.

“Their resumes invariably went to the top and they had a longer conversation with their employers or intake officers. For those students, their success rate was way higher. Most of the ones we met were getting scholarships. They were sought-after.”

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Taking shape

The aeroplane will be finished by mid next year, or earlier if possible.

“We’ll get to show it off a bit. We want to do the airshow circuit across Australia, showing what they’ve built which raises more interest which gets the program running more and more. It’s an Australia-wide charity we’ve set up so we’re trying to break into the other states, when they’re not in lockdown, and grow the program,” Paul says.

Ashley says the aim is to make it a short, sharp program once COVID-19 is behind us, so students can start it in January and be finished within 12 months.

“The schools in America that are running these programs are building one of these every seven months. They have an enormous, over-subscribed program and we’ll have the same problem here as this gets up and running,” he says.

There is a strong focus on accuracy and students are taking pride in their work, to ensure it is perfect and will pass safety checks, when complete.

“They’re wearing a construction hat but also a quality control hat. This aircraft will have two souls on board,” Ashley says.

“It is a proper-designed aircraft and it has to pass all of its usual certification processes. When a student makes a mistake, we actually celebrate it. We want the kids to fail but failing well means they identify and they call out that this is not good enough, they put their hand up to one of the mentors and say this is not right.”

The kits cost 145,000.

“This one is at 39 per cent of funding, so we’re chasing seed funding to order the engine and avionics,” Ashley says.

“Anyone out there with a heart to fund it. A lot of charities raise funds, but you never see where the money goes. Ours is really tangible, you can see it, this aircraft is then sold and we go again. So, the seed funding once it’s in there, doesn’t go anywhere else.”

They need to raise about $80,000 AU within six months.

Unique opportunity

St Columban’s College Principal Michael Connolly is grateful to Flight Youth Engineering and its mentors for the opportunities the program has already given his students.

“In the past, aviation was for a certain type of person and usually if you had the money, you could actually learn to fly and you could be involved in aviation. It wasn’t something that appeared in places like Caboolture, it was more centralised to the more affluent suburbs. It’s brought aviation to very bright students who once wouldn’t have had that experience,” he says.

“We have a relationship between the mentors and the students. The experience these mentors have got, they’re feeding that to the students. Even though some might be heading to retirement, that experience and wisdom isn’t walking away from the industry. It’s being given to these kids, who will then follow on and really make things happen in the aviation industry.”

He says in a post-COVID-19 world, there will be shortages in the industry and the students will be well-placed to make the most of the opportunity.

“There’s no better way of educating students than this, going from imperial to metric, working out of plans that come from the States into Australia. So, it really is truly an educational experience that we need in Australia,” Michael says.

The college will run another event in the coming months to encourage local businesses to support the project.

“We’re reaching out to the Moreton business community because it would be lovely for the big businesses in Moreton to get behind us and say let’s put an engine in it, put the finishing touches on it,” Michael says.

Visit the Flight Youth Engineering website

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