Students build their own aeroplane
Nine Year 11-13 students from Mercury Bay Area School in Whitianga are constructing a kitset aeroplane in an exciting project that has involved the local community and industry. Teacher Karlos Bosson has been managing the unit since early 2012.
The aeroplane is a Van's RV-12, a two-seat, single-engine aircraft kitset designed for home builds – see Vans Aircraft. Following the manufacturer's manual, the students will construct all the body parts and fit the supplied engine, with the help of mentors from the community. The completed aircraft will then be used as a training plane by the Mercury Bay Aero Club.
Construction of the RV-12 is scheduled for a half day every Wednesday afternoon, with the option of extra days in the students' own time. The target deadline for completing the project is mid 2013, though this may change depending on the students' progress.
The project started in late 2011 when local retired aviation engineer Jim Evans approached the school with a proposal.
"Jim offered to supply a kitset aircraft, and the school would provide students to help build it," teacher Karlos explains. "Students would learn all aspects of the build and pick up some unit standards along the way. So we are using this project as an avenue to extend the student's engineering experience, with the possibility of them looking at applying for an apprenticeship in the aviation sector."
The Mechanical Engineering Technology unit standards offered include:
US 22923 Demonstrate basic engineering skills under close supervision
US 4433 Simple measuring devices
US 4435 Graduated measuring devices
US 4436 Marking out equipment
US 2395 hand Tools
US 2396 Power Tools
The students also have the option to pick up several Aviation standards offered by The Aviation, Tourism and Travel Training Organisation (ATTTO).
The students involved in the project come from a wide range of academic areas including, Design and Visual Communication (Graphics), Automotive, Science, English, Maths, Outdoor Education and Media Studies.
Karlos explains that preparing for the project was a team effort.
"It is a big partnership between the owner, the school and any members of the community who are available to volunteer their time or services. Chris Cawley, who is in charge of The Engineering section of The Technology department at the school, has worked with the owner setting up a small workshop near the airfield. The community, the school and some of our suppliers also donated tools for the project."
Karlos' main role at this stage was to carry out interviews to find the right students for the project. This meant finding students who were willing to commit to the project for the estimated 18 months as well as volunteering some of their own time outside of school.
Due to the nature of the project, the preparation of a conventional unit plan has been impossible. "We are all new to aviation so, as far as the unit plan goes, we have been flying by the seat of our pants somewhat," Karlos says. "We do have a set of plans from the factory that we have to follow but we are really developing the unit plan as we go because its all-new territory."
The first stage of the project was for the students to construct their own sheet metal tool boxes. This helped the students become confident with imperial measurement and the tools and techniques they would need for the build, especially intricate bending and riveting with light sheet metal. During construction, the students became familiar with basic aviation terminology through discussion with Karlos and local mentors.
Karlos then broke the class into three groups, each working with one or two mentors, to construct different parts of the plane's empennage (tail section), such as the rudder, vertical stabiliser and anti servo tab.
"Once they completed the empennage they were a lot more confident with the tools, the terminology and just reading the manufacturers manual and going about their job," Karlos says.
The students are currently working on the construction of the wings and central fuselage of the plane. The most challenging aspect of this will be the assembly of all of the necessary cables and electronics for the navigation and safety components between the cockpit and the engine firewall, which will all have to meet strict Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) standards.
"Everything has to be checked and signed off, and if it isn't right, then it has to be brought up to that standard before we can move on. And in that respect we are quite fortunate to have an actual CAA inspector as one of the mentors on the project."
Karlos has been documenting the entire project through a school blog and has incorporated this as a strategy in the workroom.
"Because I am taking photographs and recording the build, I tend to go around and ask the students 'What you are doing, and why you are doing it?' – having to explain things helps to reinforce what they are learning."
The help of experienced volunteers and mentors has also made a huge difference when picking up fundamental skills required for this project. "As well as helping the students read the plans of the manual and make sure they understand what they are doing, they are also teaching and advising on techniques – for example using solid rivets versus pop rivets. So all that experience is being passed on – you could call it an intensive apprenticeship."
As a certified diesel engineer Karlos has had to adapt his skills and experience within the automotive field to the world of aviation. "Reading plans and following procedures is second nature for me but my experience is using heavy machinery and big tools, whereas an aviation build uses very light sheet metal where the parts form a structural piece that is light but very strong."
Maintaining student motivation over such a long term project has been also been a major focus for Karlos. "The students easily buy into something, but it's hard to keep them motivated, so sometimes you have to dangle a carrot in front of them that keeps them moving forward."
A two-day Auckland field trip to visit the Air New Zealand headquarters and several aviation workshops helped to create excitement among the students, as well as showing them clear career pathways in aviation engineering.
"We have also awarded a couple of flights in various different aircraft by the local aero club," Karlos says. "We're also looking at a partnership with the club to give the students a one-year membership and setting up a scholarship for one selected student to get their pilot licence."
The student's are making great progress so far on the central fuselage and will soon be constructing the cockpit. Once that is completed they will move onto fitting the engine to the fuselage then finish the RV-12 by constructing the undercarriage and wheel unit.