Originally Published: October 26, 2015 6 a.m.
It may sound surprising, but students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott Campus, have never built a plane before. That began to change in the spring of 2014, when a group of dedicated undergraduate students founded the university's first student operated aircraft build and research team, Eagle Aero Sport.
The effort started with a natural inquiry by three students:
"We're all about airplanes at Embry-Riddle, so why aren't we building one?" said Isaac Hein, current president of the team.
The trio approached the school's administration about forming a team of students to build and fly a hobby kit airplane, but the idea was rejected.
"The school is obviously very cautious about what they put their name on due to liability issues," said Douglas Young, director of marketing for the team.
The group went back to the drawing board to figure out what about their proposal needing fixing and, after some persistence, were eventually given approval.
Before this approval and subsequent building process, Embry-Riddle students had never built an aircraft of this type.
"The AMP (Aviation Maintenance Professional) school in Daytona had built an airplane, but no one has ever done a flight test engineering plane," Hein said.
Young had joined the effort soon before the approval and recalls one of the first team meetings.
"We were sitting down with a group of 10 people analyzing what airplane we want and how we're going to get it," Young said.
From there, it all started coming together.
Alumni showed interest and one decided to donate a build-it-yourself Vans RV-12 Light Sport Aircraft, which costs about $67,000.
"The RV-12 has been around," Hein said. "It's one of the fastest growing kit-build sellers in the nation. It's a proven aircraft that is easy for students to build," Hein said.
The school has since chipped in as well, providing a $4,100 grant to the team for engineering parts and sensors, and to fund competition registration fees for when the airplane is complete.
Young said they are nearly half-way through the building process.
"It's starting to look more like an airplane," Young said. "When we first got it, it was a box of metal."
Hein estimates project completion to be August, 2016.
Once the team finishes constructing the RV-12 and proves it air-worthy, the members intend on submitting the airplane into EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, a one-week aviation celebration in Oshkosh, Wisconsin - recognized as the largest of its kind in the world.
The airplane will compete in the home-built aircraft category at the event, which Hein believes is primarily entered by independent hobbyists as opposed to university-backed student organizations.
"Kit aircraft building is a hobby done around the world," Hein said.
Down the road, the team also hopes to make their aircraft optionally piloted, similar to a drone.
"Somebody will be in the plane, they'll flip a switch, and someone on the ground might be able to take over and fly it from there while someone is still in the plane and can engage and disengage it whenever they want," Young said.
Overall, Eagle Aero Sport is trying to be the connection from the plane to the classroom.
"Aviation is what we love, and we strive to innovate our industry while learning, building, and performing research in order to become professionals in our fields," Young said. "We believe that through education comes intelligence, but intelligence is worthless without experience."
Follow Max Efrein on Twitter @mefrein. Reach him at 928-445-3333 ext. 1105, or 928-642-7864.