Kirk Boxleitner/Staff PhotoU.S. Rep. Rick Larsen tries his hand at working on a Glasair Sportsman aircraft engine

High school students build own airplane in Arlington

ARLINGTON — When four students from Wisconsin won the chance to build their own aircraft at Glasair Aviation in Arlington, they didn't expect to see the debut of the company's latest aircraft, much less meet U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen.

ARLINGTON — When four students from Wisconsin won the chance to build their own aircraft at Glasair Aviation in Arlington, they didn’t expect to see the debut of the company’s latest aircraft, much less meet U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen.

The students of Weyauwega-Freemont High School were among 76 high schools in 31 states, plus Washington, D.C., to enter this year’s General Aviation Manufacturers Association/Build A Plane Aviation Design Challenge.

“We designed a plane, on computer, that could bear the heaviest payload with the least amount of fuel,” said Logan Feltz, who was accompanied by fellow students Natasha Stemwedel, Derrick Cleaves and Austin Krause in an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington state, to spend two weeks building a Glasair Sportsman airplane.

Larsen visited Glasair June 29, and quizzed the students about their experiences at Glasair and other parts of Washington, since they also visited the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program at Friday Harbor High School on San Juan Island.

“We each picked parts of the plane to work on,” said Feltz, noting that he focused on the rudder and engine, while Stemwedel and Cleaves covered the wings and controls. “Compared to designing an aircraft on a computer, we’ve learned how the parts are actually put together.”

Feltz credited the Glasair personnel with making sure they understood exactly how to install each specific part, as well as how to use all the requisite tools.

“It’s definitely been worth it,” said Feltz, who expects to take up piloting as a hobby, even as he plans for a career as a clinical laboratory scientist. “It’s been an amazing opportunity to come here.”

Although Stemwedel plans to go into the medical field, she agreed and sees herself taking up helicopter piloting. As for Cleaves, he entered the program without any set career goals, “so this could lead to something.”

Dan Burwell, vice president of operations, sales and marketing for Glasair, reported to Larsen that the students were nearly done building their plane, only a week and a half into the two-week build window.

“They’re really bright, hard-working, very motivated kids with terrific attention to detail,” Burwell said. Burwell also showed off Glasair’s latest model, the Merlin Light Sport Aircraft, that received official certification from the Federal Aviation Administration March 29.

“Everything about the Merlin, from parts to assembly to distribution, is done right here in the I-5 corridor,” said Burwell, who touted the aircraft as being wholly a product of Washington state. “What’s funny is, we got bought and funded by a Chinese company three years ago, but we’ve been building aircraft by and for America ever since.”

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