In late 2009, a group of men in Aurora, Ore. — all successful in business, all deeply involved in aviation – were discussing a frequent lament: How to interest young people in flying? Maybe it was the expense, maybe it was some sort of cultural divide, maybe aviation seemed so remote and unreachable that teenagers just screened it out. What could be done?
“What if we had some sort of program where kids could build an airplane and learn to fly in it?” asked one who (not surprisingly) owned a kit aircraft company. “It would only take a dozen kids or so to get started. There must be that many out there…I mean, we would have signed up when we were kids.”
So they looked in their hearts and their wallets and their calendars and decided to see if such a program was possible. It turns out that with enough volunteer effort, sponsorship, dedication and the right young people, it is. It’s called Project Teen Flight.
The program was arranged in conjunction the Airways Science for Kids (ASK) foundation, founded by the late Bob Strickland. ASK, in Portland, Ore., had the necessary organization and tax-exempt status in place. Van’s Aircraft, Inc. provided a deeply discounted RV-12 kit and workspace. Local businessmen Ted Millar, Wes Lamatta, Phil Fogg, Warren Bean, and others provided sponsorship and financial support.
On Sept. 26, 2009, project head Scott McDaniels (head of Van’s prototype and maintenance shops) and several adult volunteers held an organizational meeting with the Teen Flight participants and their families. Twelve young people, ages 14 through 17, committed to spending Saturday mornings building an airplane.
Over the next 16 months the project built momentum as the participants gained confidence and skills. Even with a three-month summer break in 2010, the completed airplane was ready to fly in March 2011. After a frustrating month of waiting on paperwork and arranging insurance — Tom Johnson of Airpower Insurance donated the latter — McDaniels made the first flight of N112TF on May 5.
He had a big grin on his face when he taxied from the first landing and opened the canopy. “You guys built a great flying airplane,” he told the teenagers anxiously awaiting his verdict. “I hope you feel as proud as I and all of the mentors — and I am sure your parents — are of you.”
For the full story of the Teen Flight project see the Teen Flight blog