Tehachapi High School students and others are making progress on an airplane that is being built in conjunction with free classes provided by mentors from the Tehachapi Society of Pilots, all at Tehachapi Municipal Airport.

“I like planes and aviation,” said Joel Diaz, 14, from Lancaster. He added, “Being involved with airplanes gives me more of a connection with what I aspire to be.”

Diaz is enrolled in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps and hopes to be an Air Force pilot.

The free classes are open to all high school students who wish to learn new skills and build a full-sized airplane.

Students have helped put together pieces of metal and so far have the fuselage, or main body of the airplane, put together, with one wing and other parts. The classes started Jan. 24, and they hope to finish in the next few years.

Students are learning to drill, secure rivets and other mechanical skills. The next steps are to paint the inside of the fuselage, and install two seats, control systems and landing gear.

“Through teaching them we give them a sense of accomplishment, teach them teamwork and help them improve their motivational and thinking skills,” said mentor John Tumilowicz.

Participants are also rewarded if they volunteer a certain amount of hours with a free airplane ride sponsored by certified pilots of the EAA Young Eagles program.

The funding for the $85,000 Zenith CH 750 Cruzer two-seater airplane was acquired through the Arts, Science and Technology Educational Corp. of Tehachapi and gives students firsthand knowledge on the mechanics and rules of aviation.

After the airplane is finished, it will be used for flying instruction and then sold to purchase another airplane kit. The society hopes to secure another grant to help further new projects, project manager Paul Nafziger said earlier this year.

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