Olney High School Students Win Aviation Design Contest

The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and Build a Plane recently hosted four Olney High School students as the winners of the GAMA/Build a Plane Aviation Design Challenge. The Aviation Design Challenge, now in its fifth year, promotes the real-world application of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) studies.

«As a GAMA board member, I am proud of the young men and women of Olney High School and their teacher for their hard work and dedication that allowed them to win the GAMA Build a Plane Challenge,» said Air Tractor President Jim Hirsch. «It will be a wonderful experience for them, and especially gratifying for Air Tractor to sponsor the kids.»

The competition included 93 high schools from 31 states and Washington, DC. The teams used Fly to Learn curriculum to learn the basics of aerospace engineering and then applied that knowledge by modifying a virtual airplane with software powered by X-plane. 

On June 19th, students Bryant Castro, Kodee Scott, Michael Gomez and Amber McCutcheon along with their teacher, Sabrina Laurent traveled from Olney to Arlington, Washington to assist in the build of a Glasair Sportsmana single-engine, high wing, four seat composite airplane.

On their arrival in Washington, they were greeted by GAMA President and CEO Pete Bunce and sat down to a welcome dinner with the Glasair Aviation staff. The students would spend the next 12 days in an intensive build environment, each day sponsored by various companies in the aerospace industry.

In discussing the project, Pete Bunce said, “Although the grand prize for the competition is the actual build, the holy grail of the effort was 93 teams of high school aged young men and women, along with their teachers and volunteers, applying their knowledge and skill to collectively unlock a passion for many aspects of aerospace through which they will help ensure a bright future for our industry.”

GARMIN sponsored Day 1 of the build in which students were immediately put to work on basic construction of the aircraft. On Day 2, sponsored by ClickBond, students learned the basics of riveting, and riveted the wings of their aircraft. The rest of the week would focus on the plane’s interior, from installation of the instrument panel to basic interior build.

L-R: Amber McCutcheon, Bryant Castro, Michael Gomez

On Day 7, the students took a break from building and toured San Juan Island, walked the campus of the University of Washington, and checked out the Sportsman built by the 2016 winning team.

Gulfstream Aerospace sponsored the first day back in the facility, where the students installed the propeller and safety wiring for the aircraft. On Day 11, sponsored by Jet Aviation, students were treated to the traditional “Two Weeks to Taxi” luncheon, at which the students were awarded plaques commemorating their accomplishment. On Day 12, sponsored by Redbird Flight Simulations, the students prepared the completed Sportsman for its first self-powered taxi. Seattle’s Fox affiliate Q13 was on hand to film the event.


Olney High School Principal Matt Caffey was enthusiastic and appreciative of the learning opportunity, «The chance for our students to compete in the Aviation Design Challenge broadened horizons in ways that we could not have been able to with without GAMA. Our students winning is one of the most exciting things to happen to Olney High School this year. We’d like to thank Jim Hirsch of Air Tractor for the time he took to deliver the news to our students in person.”

Additional sponsors for the build included: SIEMENS, Wipaire, Bombardier Business Aircraft, Embraer, Jet Support Services, Textron,  and Jeppesen.

Many more photos of the GAMA 2017 Build a Plane project can be found here.