Students celebrate kit built plane's test flight

Student-built aircraft takes flight


A light-sport aircraft built by 25 high school students last week during AirVenture Australia’s Airshow in Parkes, NSW, has successfully flown its maiden flight.

Kit-built BushCat supervisors
Build supervisors (from left) Errol van Rensburg, James Weightman, John Mabunda and Michael Gill watched the BushCat’s maiden flight. Photo: Marena Janse van Rensburg


Twenty-four boys and one girl from schools around Australia took part in a work experience program that challenged the students to build an aircraft within seven days for a test pilot to fly.

The build, which commenced last Monday, was completed within six days, and the plane flew for the first time on Sunday.

The event saw the students putting together a kit-built BushCat (a light-sport aircraft) as a part of AirVenture Australia’s Airshow in Parkes, NSW.

The aircraft-building program was advertised to regional high schools and career programs, and students had to submit applications to be considered for a spot on the team.

Student aircraft construction
Students putting together the main body of the aircraft said the best skill they learned during the build was teamwork. Photo: Marena Janse van Rensburg


Show and build organiser David Young said AirVenture Australia was an organisation that hosted an air show once a year, which aimed to showcase different pathways into aviation.

“The event is organised to engage aviation enthusiasts with other pilots and builders to show them the many different ways to get involved within the aviation community, whether in building, maintaining or flying aircraft,” Mr Young said.

The organisation partnered with BushCat Australia to create the kit-build program as an opportunity for students aged 15 to 18 with an interest in aviation to learn from experienced aviators and builders.

The event ran as a part of the Youth Aviation Careers and STEM Exposition at the AirVenture air show, which works to involve students in interactive and educational aviation-based programs.

Student BushCat build team
Twenty-five students from around Australia worked with five supervisors to build the BushCat. Photo: Marena Janse van Rensburg


Five aviation experts supervised the students as they carried out the build over the six days, one of who was an Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority inspector who also inspected and approved the aircraft for its maiden flight.

The team completed both the plane’s main wing and the fuselage structures within the first five hours of their build on Monday, and by day two the aircraft was already covered in its outer shell and standing on its wheels.

BushCat assembly manager, John Mabunda was one of the supervisors for the build, and has a lot of experience building the kit planes, having built more than 150 BushCat aircraft with his team in South Africa.

Mr Mabunda said he anticipated the student build, which was expected to take seven days, would be completed much sooner.

“I was happy to see their production with so little experience, they made my job easy,” Mr Mabunda said.

Students celebrate kit built plane's test flight
Students who took part in the build were excited to watch the BushCat’s maiden flight in Parkes, NSW. Photo: Marena Janse van Rensburg


One of the students that participated in the build was 16-year-old Alex Smythe from Orange in NSW, who said he hoped to join the air force after high school.

“I was grateful for the experience because there aren’t many work experience programs like this [near Orange],” Mr Smythe said.

“It’s crazy to think the whole [aircraft] was in boxes six days ago,” he said after the BushCat completed its maiden flight.

The test flight could not be announced to the public due to safety concerns, but the students and their parents were able to watch the take-off and landing of the BushCat during a break in the air show’s flight displays.

The aircraft will be given away to one lucky air show attendee once it has completed 25 hours of test flying.

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