From doing homework to relaxing with friends, high school students have many options when it comes to how they spend their time after the school day ends.

Eighteen students from Columbus North, Columbus East and CSA _ New Tech stick around school on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. They’re building an airplane.

The students will take about two years to construct an RV-12 — a two-seat, all-metal aircraft — from scratch in the Aviation Nation program, which began this semester at Columbus North.

One important goal for the program — an after-school extracurricular activity — is to find students who have an genuine interest in aviation. It’s a field that needs more trained people to fill upcoming jobs, especially as pilots, said Brian Payne, Columbus Municipal Airport director.

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Additionally, Aviation Nation is intended to build students’ leadership and communication skills, said Bob Kelly, who created the local program.

Toward that end, Kelly, Payne and other program mentors tend to stand back and let the students do the work. They want class members to assume responsibility and ownership in the program.

“Leaders are already starting to emerge,” Payne said. “They jump right in if they see something wrong.”

Learning from errors

Mistakes in the airplane-building program are common and to be expected, which a few students have already learned, Kelly said.“When you make a mistake, you sort of get frustrated and you think, ‘How did I not get this right the first time?’ and then you’ve got to go back to the plans and figure out where you went wrong,” said Eli Edwards, a junior at CSA-New Tech, who was taking apart a piece that was accidentally done incorrectly.

Sometimes, finding that mistake isn’t easy, Edwards said.

That’s because plans for the aircraft are highly meticulous, especially for the grade level, chief mentor Derek Byers said.

For Henry Beckstein, a Columbus North sophomore, the ability to accept those mistakes and learn from them has been the biggest challenge to overcome.

That level of detail in the instructions is the students’ biggest challenge, but their strong suit is their ability to work as a team, he said.

Beckstein and Edwards both plan to pursue aviation-related careers.

Edwards intends to pursue a degree in aeronautical engineering at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Beckstein is unsure if he wants to pursue an engineering or piloting pathways, but he knows he wants to do something in one of those areas.

Program’s start

The origin of Aviation Nation began last fall after Kelly reached out to organizations and schools.Kelly, a self-proclaimed failure at retirement, wanted to teach students about aviation and airplane building. With the help of Payne and Ray Rising of Cummins Inc., they put the program into motion.

In the spring of this year, they began reaching out to students.

John Green, assistant principal at Columbus North and a pilot, donated a classroom to start the building process. The plane will eventually outgrow its current quarters, said Kelly, who estimated that about half of the work will be completed in the classroom before it will have to be moved to a hangar at the airport.

The first group of students is working on the tail portion of the plane because it has smaller, less complicated components, allowing them to see success faster, Green said. It is also less expensive to begin that way in the event a part needs to be replaced as students learn, he said.

Cost is an important factor as the project costs $80,000, Payne said.

Payne has raised $25,000 so far, including monies pledged by businesses.

To help with finances, two Columbus North seniors are organizing fundraisers as their senior projects, Payne said. Austin Boas is planning a Halloween Plane Pull on Oct. 29 and Cameron Hofelich will have a Columbus Campus Cook-off on Nov. 17.

Upon completion, the RV-12 will be sold and proceeds will be reinvested into the project, Payne said.

The airport director would like to build and sell a few airplanes to generate enough profit to keep one aircraft for the program.

“But that’s down the road,” he said. “For now, we need to figure out how to raise funds for this build.”

Educational Pathways

To bring awareness to the field of aviation, the airport launched its Educational Pathways Initiative in Aviation in December. It starts with children in prekindergarten — who get a coloring book showcasing aviation jobs — and extends all the way through college. Aviation Nation is the high school portion to the initiative.At the upper end of the education spectrum, Ivy Tech Columbus is the only system campus in the state offering flight instruction and aviation management/operations technology, said Steven Coffman, regional dean of the school of technology at Ivy Tech.

The college is working to extend its dual-credit program to include Aviation Nation. This would allow students participating to not only achieve bragging rights from building a plane, but earn college credit in the process.

Ivy Tech currently offers a certificate and technical certificate program in aviation and is seeking approval for its Associate of Applied Science program from the Indiana Commission of Higher Learning, said Coffman.

Dual credit would be applicable to any of those three programs, hopefully by fall 2017, Coffman said.

How to help

Two fundraisers are planned this fall to help finance the Aviation Nation program in Columbus high schools.

Halloween Plane Pull

When: Noon to 3 p.m. Oct. 29

Where: Columbus Municipal Airport, 4770 Ray Boll Blvd.

Costs: $10 per person. All proceeds go to Aviation Nation.

What: In senior project organized by Columbus North student Austin Boas, teams of three will compete to pull a plane a certain distance in the shortest amount of time. Winners will receive a prize. Costumes are required, and the person with the best costume will also receive a prize.

Registration: Contact Melinda Finley at or 812-376-2519. The first 30 teams to register will get a free set of pulling gloves with the logo on them.

Columbus Campus Chili Cook-off

When: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 17.

Where: Columbus Learning Center, 4555 Central Ave.

Costs: $5 per person

What: In senior project organized by Columbus North student Cameron Hofelich, participants can buy a taste of each chili and a bowl of their personal favorite for $5.

Information: Contact Hofelich by email at

Educational pathways to aviation

Goal of the local Educational Pathways Initiative to Aviation is to have aviation-based programs that range from preschool to college.

  • Ivy Tech’s Flight in Management program, college audience.
  • Civil Air Patrol, high school and adult-aged individuals meet at the Columbus Municipal Airport terminal building weekly. It is a military-based organization tasked with search and rescue missions
  • Aviation Nation, high school extra-curricular component.
  • Spark for preschoolers uses a coloring book to showcases aviation careers.
  • First Flights, for ages 9 and up.
  • Young Eagles, through the local EAA Chapter 729, gives children ages 8-17 a free airplane ride, typically during summer months.

Source: Columbus Municipal Airport, First Flights

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Kaitlyn Evener is an editorial assistant for The Republic. She can be reached at or 812-379-5633.