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XPONENTIAL Innovation Preview -- www.allthingsunmanned.com

Thu, Apr 19, 2007

Build A Plane Gets By With A Little Help From Its Friends

Non-Profit Gets Aircraft, Inspiration From Around The Globe

Since 2003, Build A Plane has dedicated itself to growing general aviation through educational programs. Lyn Freeman, founder of the non-profit, became familiar with unusual requests and probably thought he had seen everything... until 2005, when he heard from Kasarachi "Kasa" Ejimofor.

Kasa contacted Build A Plane (BAP) after a satellite dish was installed in his remote village of Aba, Nigeria. This installation allowed him to watch television programs for the first time. Aviation programs drew his interest immediately; he had always been fascinated by things that flew. His interest grew rapidly due to the sudden exposure to a variety of aviation programs now available. 

Kasa, then 17 years of age, contacted BAP and told them he had designed his own airplane. BAP turned to two brothers, who were also young airplane designers, and asked if they would be interested in mentoring young Kasa. Alan and Dale Klapmeier of Cirrus Design were interested immediately.

Helping Kasa build his design became a mission... not just to the Klapmeiers, but also to the other kids and to the principal, C.G. Onuoha, at his school. Building Kasa's design was wrought with challenges, but "Their Build A Plane project built the spirit of facing challenges and hard work," Onuoha said.

Kasa and his friends continued to learn. They learned to weld, to work with fiberglass; they scavenged for parts and material and learned to overcome challenges everywhere. They were building an airplane, of their own design, with no materials and no instructions, while living in a place where this wasn't normally done.

Two years later, they stood in front of their finished plane. "They learned to solve problems in their academic endeavors," principal Onuoha said. This experience would take them far in life. Several of the young builders expressed an interested in engineering, mathematics, sciences and flight and are pursuing those interests today.

For Kasa, this was a dream come true. "I want to thank Cirrus and Build A Plane, because this project has highlighted my whole life. I wish more young people around the world the same opportunity."

His project is now over, but his experience and dedication to aviation have just begun.

Another story takes place in a remote Alaskan Village; Hooper Bay High School is 500 miles from the nearest road, flying in that area is a primary means of survival. The students at this high school will learn to build, and then fly a Thorp T-211. Their initial goals include earning Light Sport Repairman and Sport Pilot Certificates.

Grant Funk, a teacher at Hooper Bay, pilot and Certified Flight Instructor, says, "You can't imagine what a dream come true this is for us!" He goes on to say, "We'll begin the building process right away. Next fall I'll teach a Sport Pilot ground school so that when the airplane is completed we'll have the ground school already finished. And, as the airplane is certified and ready to roll, we'll teach them to fly it."

The Thorp T-211 light sport aircraft is being donated by Dr. Ram Pattisapu, founder and CEO of IndUS Aviation out of Dallas, TX and Bangalore, India. He said, "IndUS has been a big supporter of Build A Plane since the project began several years ago and I hope more of the aviation and aerospace community will step up and get involved. This is the kind of thing we need to be doing."

Many organizations agree with Dr. Pattisapu. FedEx, NASA, the FAA, Parametric Technology Corporation, the National Center for Aircraft Technician Training, Purdue University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are just a sample of the organizations stepping up to help the program.

After Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, Avemco donated 12 aircraft with saltwater damage. Although the planes will never fly again, they otherwise are in exceptional condition for study and educational endeavors.

Jim Lauerman, Executive Vice President of Avemco, states, "Our mission is to support initiatives that improve aviation safety, and the Build a Plane project fits perfectly within this mission.  As it grows, the aviation industry will require thousands of additional maintenance and repair professionals.  The investment we make in aviation education today will pay immense dividends in the future."

Build A Plane, in partnership with the Thomas Wathen Foundation, continues to seek donations as well as the names of interested high schools, young people, EAA groups, and private individuals who want to participate in a project like the ones outlined here.

"Thanks to the generosity of the aviation community, Build A Plane has placed more than a million dollars' worth of project aircraft into the hands of kids and their adult mentors," Freeman (above) said.

FMI: www.buildaplane.com

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