At the super Golden West Fly-In and Air Show, I got to meet Lyn Freeman who runs Build A Plane. This is so cool what he does! We climbed into a stunningly beautiful Glasair Sportsman 2+2 and he filled me in on this amazing organization. Check it out!
Please tell me about Build A Plane
Build-a-Plane began in 2003 and what Build A Plane is all about is trying to get kids interested in aviation and also to use aviation as a way to get them excited about learning math, science, engineering, and technology. So we decided that what we would do is ask people to donate airplanes to us. And so people in fact have donated more than 100 airplanes and we turn around and donate them to high schools around the country to give kids an opportunity to build a real airplane while they're in school.
Wow I'd love to do that in my school
What grade are you in now?
I'm in fifth grade
Fifth-grade excellent I don't think we have any elementary school projects. We do have some middle school projects. And what happens is the kids get to build a real airplane and when they're finished it’s almost like we've tricked them because they've learned math and science and all kinds of good stuff along the way. So that's what we do.
Yeah we've been very lucky in that we've had a lot of really wonderful people help us all over the country, lots of volunteers, and they've helped us a lot. I think we have more than 120 projects now, plus we have a project going in Nigeria, and another one in India and were trying to get one established in China, so we're just trying to find ways to get kids excited about aviation.
That sounds like a great program!
It is a great program. It's just really lots of fun and we've been very lucky in that the aviation industry has been very supportive of what we do. For example, this airplane that we’re in right now is a Glasair Sportsmen 2+2 and this airplane was build by kids. This airplane was built by high school kids and it was built in two weeks. In Arlington Washington there is a company called Glasair where they make these airplanes. And they have this program called “Two Weeks to Taxi”. And “Two Weeks to Taxi” means that if you go up there, they will put you inside of a very high-tech hanger with a couple of their experts on building the airplane and you just work really hard for two weeks and at the end you can fire up your airplane and drive it out of hanger.
Then we have the FAA inspect it and they gave the kids work high marks, it was good, and we began flying it. This is the first public appearance that the airplane has made. So you're here for the beginning.
So, in the kits, people buy the kits but they can't complete them. Is that the deal?
You mean like with Build A Plane? No actually we just give the airplanes to the schools and they are the airplanes that people have given to us and sometimes they’re kit airplanes and sometimes they're certified airplanes and they get as large as for example, right now we’re working with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC and they're going to give us a C-130 Hercules. So we get all types of airplanes. It's really cool.
And this year at Oshkosh will set this airplane up there and we’ll have some kids flying an airplane from Kentucky that they built. So yeah, it's just great fun and Build A Plane even has a big, what we call, “Teachers Day” at Oshkosh this year where teachers from all across the country can sign up and come and learn all kinds of ways to include aviation into their classrooms. And we’re working on getting some other programs up and running that will go with building an airplane in your school. This July, next month, we will release two programs, one that allows high school kids to get their Light Sport aircraft repair certificate and that's an FAA designated certificate. We’ll also release another program where kids can become licensed trained aviation/avionics technologists so they can fix and install avionics and airplanes. So there are just all kinds of stuff. Last year we had a company called Indus aviation, they make an LSA called the Thorpedo, and they make all the components in Bangalore India. We arranged for them to donate an aircraft, all the components, to build an aircraft to a group of Eskimo kids in an Eskimo village in Alaska. We had Federal Express pickup that aircraft from Bangalore India and they flew up to Anchorage Alaska. Then another local freight hauler picked it up in Anchorage and flew it to a town called Bethel. Then another freight hauler picked it up and flew it from Bethel to Hopper Bay. Hopper Bay is where these Eskimo kids live and their village does not have indoor plumbing, its 500 miles from the nearest road and these kids are about half way done with building an airplane, and they're going to get, all of them that work on the airplane, get to earn their pilots license.
Wow, that is very cool.
It is very cool, so we get to do projects like that and we’re very excited.
So is Build A Plane with a nationwide and worldwide thing or does it have a main headquarters?
Well, we have an office in Southern California and another office in Westpoint Virginia on the East Coast, but our programs are all over the United States and then plus now in the some of the other countries I mentioned. I'm so lucky to get to work with a program like this
Are you the head of Build A Plane?
I am. I started Build-a-Plane in 2003.
You are very lucky.
I am very lucky! I'm the luckiest guy in the whole darn world! When we first announced build a plane as an idea that we wanted to do, I got a phone call one day from a 15-year-old boy who was calling me from his cell phone while he was standing inside his high school and he wanted to start a project. So we helped him get a project going, and I just ran into that kid about almost a year ago and I ran into him at an air show. And he now has his pilot’s license. All of that’s because he got excited about airplanes through Build A Plane. So we get to hear things like that and that's very cool.
We had another high school in Southern California where, it's a very tough high school, a very tough group of kids, and they had all enrolled in the class called ‘small engine repair’. The small engines the school had were two Briggs & Stratton lawnmower engines for the kids to learn with. So the teacher heard about Build A Plane and he thought what can I do to get an airplane in here for these kids? So we told them we'd find them one and he told his class that Build A Plane was trying to find him an aircraft and the kids didn't believe him. And then one day a few weeks later a big truck pulled into the parking lot of the school and used a crane to move a Cessna 150 off of the back and these kids suddenly had a whole airplane to work on. And at the end of that year two of the kids had enrolled in a weekend community college program to get their airframe and power plant license. Two more kids had taken flying lessons and had already soloed, and another kid had applied to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and was starting school there. All of that is because an airplane showed up in their school.
Wow that is a great program.
We’re having lots of fun, lots of fun.
I've just suddenly become really interested in this and I had no idea about this until about 20 minutes ago but now!
Well, you now, where's your school?
It’s in Pacifica, near San Francisco.
Well maybe we should stay in touch so we can see if maybe we get something going in your part of the world. Maybe we could send a smaller project for now like a project for you guys to make like wing ribs. Have you done things like that before?
I haven't really wrenched on things like that. I wrenched on a Yak at a friends hanger and some stuff like that but that would be a great project.
Well let's see if we can make that happen, what do you say?
Yeah let's you and I stay in touch, I think we can do that.
And next year I'm going in the sixth grade.
You mean you passed the fifth grade?
Betcha we can get it all ready and we'll get some stuff up there for you guys. That would be so cool.
After we chatted in this very cool Glasair Sportsman 2+2, Lyn took me for a flight in it! Those high school kids sure built a nice plane. And since Lyn is a CFI, I logged more stick time too!
Lyn is a neat guy and I had a great time getting to know him. Be sure to check out the Build A Plane website to see the amazing things they do