Almost ready for lift-off

"After three years of planning and hard work, Central Kitsap Junior High eighth and ninth graders are almost ready to roll out their first student-built airplane - albeit minus an engine.Mentored and supervised by teacher Steve Smith and volunteers from the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, this year's students this year have each put about 170 hours into the project, which has changed hands every year as classes come and go.The airplane, made mostly of aluminum, has been constructed by students and three or four EAA volunteers every Tuesday afternoon and Thursday evening.The program began three years ago when EAA representatives proposed a mentoring program to encourage student interest in aircraft. In exchange for assuming ownership of the plane, George Steed of EAA purchased all the materials necessary for the task.Since then, the project has taken off. It is scheduled to be completed during the first week of June.It's going to roll out whether it's ready or not, Smith said.The most daunting task remaining is raising enough money to afford the $10,000 four-cylinder engine, which probably won't be purchased until after the plane has been finished. Smith said several grant proposals are being written, and donations are welcome.That's the big item, he said. But we're not going to have a pancake sale.Students are assigned to work on individual pieces of the aircraft, and their work is held to exacting standards. Pieces must be machined to within a milimeter of the plans for the two-seat aircraft.The students are very accepting of their precision, he said. A student can have a piece, and he keeps working on that piece until he's done.Students learn about aerodynamics and mathematics, among other things, Smith said.It is beneficial to see the results of your labors, he said. Something you can look at.And then, of course, there's a lot of real-life practical skills. When I was growing up, we used to do this with our dads. That doesn't happen any more.Eighth-grader Megan Parrish said she enjoys the educational aspect of the after-school tasks.You're doing math at the same time you're building a plane, she said.In addition to earning high-school credit for the project, ninth-grader Brian Lozano said he has learned many skills during the two years he has worked on the plane, such as basic piloting and Federal Aviation Administration regulations.One of the mentors took me out flying last year, said Lozano, who added that the experience has helped him focus on a career as a pilot.With the project in full swing, Steed has formed Flightline Northwest, a non-profit organization that will take ownership of the finished plane and is designed to encourage connections between students and mentors in the local community.With grants from the Lockheed Corporation, the Linder Foundation and a local teachers union, Steed said the organization will be responsible for operating the plane and eventually aiding him in flying it to other school districts. This whole project has been like throwing a rock into a pond, Steed said. You know most of what's going to happen.But one of the biggest effects Steed said, resulted from a Web page built by a student in the program, which publicized the project. It eventually drew the attention from students in France and Argentina. Steed said he had the foreign-language letters translated by students in various language classes, which helped involve more than just those students working on the plane.Kids love this, he said. It's like bees to honey.Once the plane is finished, it will be transferred to a storage space to await its engine while construction on another plane begins.The project's Web site can be found at ckjh/airplane."

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