In early August 2011 an eager group of 20 high school students and teachers from Ballina High School and Alstonville High School’s aviation studies course (years 9 to 12) made an excursion to the Australian LightWing Aircraft factory on Southern Cross Drive, in North Ballina, to mark the beginning of this areas second aviation project where local high school students will build, complete and learn to fly an Australian LightWing SP-2000 low wing Aircraft.
Students at Ballina High School have previously completed their own Australian LightWing aircraft, a GR-912 as part the “School Fly” aviation program in 1992 to 1995. This course was a complete success as many of those students have now gone on to gainful employment in the aviation industry. Barry Skinner for example, now is an instructor teaching flight skills in some of the worlds most sophisticated military aircraft. This new School Fly Project will be building a much more complex aircraft, as the Australian LightWing SP2000 features a glass cockpit, a variable in flight pitch propeller, low wing, gull wing doors and many more state of the art features not present in the older GR range of LightWing aircraft.
Australian LightWing will initially be sponsoring the aircraft build which will involve students from a number of nearby high schools, giving students the opportunity to learn how to develop both their hands-on building skills and later on, their flying skills. These skills include: 2 and 3D CAD drawing, generating G codes for computer manufacture, metalwork, spray-painting, general assembly, the hands on aspects of wing design, cockpit safety and active design aspects of this, basic stress analysis, upholstery; styling, computer aided navigation and much more. Its worth pointing out that the School Fly course at Ballina High, has been running in both a flying and non a non flying mode (2 students have independently attained RAAus solo status) since 1992.
The project will take shape this coming term with completion due in 2013 giving the maximum number of students the opportunity to interact with the course over the next two years. In the final stage of the School Fly project, the high schools involved will be able to sell sponsorship in the form of advertising on the aircraft itself, use the aircraft for flight training or to sell the aircraft.
Hughes’ initial motives were to ensure an endless supply of bright-eyed additions to the aviation workforce, which was definitely not the case with the previous project as students have gone on to work in the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Virgin Blue Airline etc. The LSA category has been a breath of fresh air in the stuffy world of aircraft design and manufacture making it even more important to introduce a new breed of young and empowered aviation enthusiasts into the RA-Aus and GA fraternity.
“We have to do everything possible to encourage young people into RA-Aus membership”, says Hughes, “As we strive for an evolving and safety focused future of light sport aircraft and aviators in Australia ”.
Through the School Fly program and also thanks to forward thinking teachers like Ballina High’s Mark Willacy, Australian LightWing is actively spreading the word about the benefits that flow on from this innovative course. In the past, schools including Kent st High in WA, Moruya on the NSW south coast and others have all built LightWing aircraft and simply using the RAAus syllabus, hundreds of students have experienced some if not all of the excitement of flying in an aircraft they have helped build, Nick Hughes puts it this way “ its just one big win, win situation” and as Nick was a student at Ballina High when the first GR-912 was built, no one knows better than he does, how many skills can be learnt from the School Fly program.