Students learn aviation from ground up |

Students learn aviation from ground up

14-year-old Douglas High student Lillian Thompson drills bushings for an aileron that will be fitted on the Murphy Elite airplane kids in the Build-A-Plane program are working on last Saturday at the Minden Airport.
Brad Coman |

Neither an aircraft nor aviators are created in a day, but a project taking flight at Minden Tahoe Airport hopes to eventually turn out both.

About 20 Douglas High School students are at work building an airplane from a kit that was donated to the project, according to coordinator Don Dixon and the Sports Aviation Foundation.

Dixon said he has been working to start the project for a couple of years.

“The goal is to get the kids down to the airport and expose them to aviation,” he said.

The students are building a Murphy Elite kit, which was donated by a flier’s family.

The group has met twice a month so far, with some of the students working on the aircraft and the others taking aviation classes from volunteers.

Dixon said his hope is that at the end of four years the airplane will be done, and the students at a point where they can obtain a pilot’s license.

“I tell the kids it’s not a race,” he said. “The key is getting it done right.”

They have been working on the plane from the rear forward, starting with ailerons and the rudder.

“There are literally thousands of rivets they have to put in,” Dixon said. “We are just getting started.”

The students have been meeting 9 a.m. to noon every other Saturday, but Dixon said he hopes to add Thursday night meetings as well.

Dixon is an electrical engineer who has worked at General Electric for 26 years and has been a private pilot for 11 years.

He said he’s received help from aircraft and power plant mechanic Jim Nunnelee. Master Certified Flight Instructor Bill Schroeder is instructing the students.

The kit was donated by the family of Smith Valley pilot Fred Alpers. Fred’s wife, Barbara, and his son in law, Dan Jenkins, worked with Dixon to provide the kit.

Airport Manager Bobbi Thompson donated a hangar where students are working on the aircraft. Al Gangwish of Hutt Aviation is providing a conference room for ground school activities so they get both a chance to work on the aircraft, and an opportunity to learn about flying.

Tools and funding was provided by the Sport Aviation Foundation.

“We wouldn’t be to this point if it wasn’t for them,” Dixon said.

General Electric and Big George Ventures have also donated money for tools.

Dixon said he was hoping to get another 20 students interested in the project.

The students also helped with the Youth Aviation Adventure last month that saw 40 students and 20 parents participate.

The BuildAPlane project allows students to apply science, technology, engineering and mathematics principles to aeronautics.

For more information about the program, or to join in the work, contact Dixon at or call 775-721-0173.

Linda Mae Draper said the aviation foundation is a nonprofit founded in 2011 to develop the east side of Minden-Tahoe Airport with a soaring complex and a sports aviation center. The foundation sponsors the Youth Aviation Adventure and Aviation Education Days.