When Braylen Fabirkiewicz enrolled at Alliance Academy for Innovation, he knew he’d learn more about being a pilot. That’s why Fabirkiewicz decided to attend the county’s newest high school: at an early age, Fabirkiewicz knew he wanted to fly airplanes for a career, and the school’s Flight Operations career pathway would provide real-world experience in a simulated work environment.
But Fabirkiewicz didn’t know how real-world things would get until he and 11 other students started a new class this school year, aviation maintenance, and were informed that they would embark on an ambitious undertaking: building a working aircraft.
To be exact, the class is building an RV-12iS – a two-seat, 100-horsepower aircraft with a top speed of 144 mph that can reach an altitude of almost 20,000 feet – from a kit purchased through Van’s Aircraft, an Oregon-based company.
“I would have never, ever guessed I would be building an airplane,” Fabirkiewicz said.
The building hasn’t started just yet. Last semester, the class went through an online training course to study the basic math and sciences of aviation and how to interpret drawings.
“That was a pretty dry first couple of months,” said Greg Salloum, an aerospace teacher at Alliance and former Delta pilot.
Things have gotten more hands-on since winter break. The majority of the work involves riveting, so students have been honing their skills by building miniature wings.
“If [Salloum] feels confident in our abilities, then we’ll begin to put everything together,” Fabirkiewicz said.
The work will be done in sections: first the empennage, or tail, and then the wings and fuselage. They’ll install avionics, get it custom painted, and then Salloum will have it inspected by the Federal Aviation Administration, which includes taking it for its first flight.
“I’ll be sitting in the airplane at the airport, engine running, and I’m going to be thinking to myself, ‘I’m fixing to take off in an airplane that 12 15- [and] 16-year-old kids built,” Salloum said.
This was Salloum’s idea in the first place. The project is a first-of-its-kind in Georgia, but Salloum says about 60 schools and organizations around the country have built a Van’s Aircraft kit.
“This company really tailors this program to an educational environment,” said Col. Jack Rogers, another Alliance aerospace teacher and retired Air Force.
Last year, Salloum proposed it to Alliance’s administration, led by principal Brandi Cannizzaro, and “they jumped onboard pretty quickly,” he said. Cannizzaro took the idea to the school system to make sure it met all the necessary standards. They then offered a corresponding class, Aviation Maintenance 1, last spring.
Twelve students signed up, but it was a month and a half into this school year before the class found out about the project.
For students like Logan Agler, it was a dream scenario. Agler came to Alliance for its Aviation Maintenance pathway. His family has a deep military history, and he wants to work on fighter jets in the Air Force.
Before coming to Alliance, the best Agler could do was watch YouTube videos.
“I just want to work on aircraft,” Agler said. “I find it so cool that we can lift these heavy machines into the air and go supersonic. It’s just ridiculous.”
On a recent Monday, Agler was in class hovering over detailed schematic drawings of the RV-12iS. Nearby, other students practiced using a drill press. A few more roamed through a back room where parts are kept.
By the end of next school year, the class expects to have a finished aircraft ready to be inspected and sold to someone in the community, with the proceeds helping to fund another build.
The class has also received help from the community. Van’s
Aircraft kits can cost upwards of $90,000. So far, Alliance has received
donations from Carter Patterson with Forte Data Systems and Epps Aviation out
of Dekalb-Peachtree Airport. A small group of industry professionals has
volunteered to help the class complete work on the weekends, too.
When it’s done, Fabirkiewicz and his classmates hope the project has provided them with an experience they’ll be able to take with them into the future career.
“I’m hoping that I can get a better understanding for the planes that I’m flying,” Fabirkiewicz said.