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East Coast tech school packing for Pacific Coast airplane buildEast Coast tech school packing for Pacific Coast airplane build

New York’s Harkness tech school wins GAMA Build-A-Plane design challengeNew York’s Harkness tech school wins GAMA Build-A-Plane design challenge

Students from an upstate New York technical and vocational school are packing for Washington state to build an airplane. The Harkness Career and Technical Center, a vocational high school in Cheektowaga, New York, beat 130 other schools in the sixth annual 2018 GAMA Build-A-Plane aircraft design challenge.

The General Aviation Manufacturers Association contest’s objectives were to design and modify a virtual Cessna 172SP airplane to be as fast and as fuel efficient as possible. Students used their knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to modify the aircraft with software powered by X-Plane. GAMA will send four Harkness students, one teacher, and a chaperone on an all-expenses-paid trip to help build an aircraft at Glasair Aviation in Arlington, Washington, from June 17 to 30.

“They were a little shocked for a second and finally realized what it all meant,” said Tom Leach, the school’s aviation technology instructor and a private pilot. He tasked 15 high school seniors and a handful of juniors with the practical experiment as part of their educational routine. “I knew that we designed a very, very good aircraft that would probably be in the top five percent, but I didn’t expect it to be the best.”

The Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services school has a two-year aviation program and “we get them career- and college-ready,” Leach explained. “I cover as many aspects of aviation as possible so they can make a career choice in the field they want to pursue. We sit next to Buffalo International Airport so we can do a 30-hour job-shadow experience where they learn fueling, line service, and things like that.” Leach said the class also fans out to other local airports, air traffic control facilities, and engineering companies to give students a taste of real-world aviation positions.

He said a female student was “looking at becoming an engineer or a pilot” and other students were interested in aircraft maintenance, aerospace engineering, or additional professional pilot options.

School administrators entered the classroom, played a GAMA video, and then announced the win to the class. “They were just as surprised as I was,” added Leach, who put his instrument written exam and checkride temporarily on hold to help the students concentrate on their design challenge goals.

“The students and I are really looking forward to going out and building an airplane,” said Leach. It will be a busy summer and fall for Leach because he is getting married in October and has his sights set on building his own aircraft someday. “I told my fiancée that this is going to light the fire,” he confided. “But there’s too many good aircraft to pick just one—and that’s the problem.”

David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Aviation Industry, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Experimental

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