Simply Riveting: EAA AirVenture Project to Make a Plane in a Week

July 28--OSHKOSH -- It takes a while to build an airplane.

Wings, rudder, tail, cockpit, engine, all those rivets -- planes are not something that's just thrown together like a pup tent.

So the idea of building a plane in a week seems odd. Actually, it sounds crazy.

But a project called "One Week Wonder" aims to do just that at EAA AirVenture, which started its weeklong aviation convention Monday. Volunteers are constructing an all-metal light aircraft from a kit, something that would take one or two people a year or more.

Harnessing the efforts of hundreds of volunteers -- many of whom were waiting in line outside the "One Week Wonder" tent at 8 a.m. Monday when AirVenture opened -- the idea is to finish the Zenith CH 750 kit plane by Sunday. An FAA official will inspect the plane, and if it passes muster, the plane will taxi on the runway at Wittman Regional Airport on Sunday with flight testing scheduled next month.

The project is a nod to EAA's roots. The organization was started by a group of homebuilders more than 60 years ago in Hales Corners. In the 1970s, a plane was built in eight days during an EAA convention in Oshkosh.

"We decided to do it again," EAA AirVenture spokesman Dick Knapinski said. "It's to show people that with today's (plane) kits and technology it's relatively simple to build a plane."

Hundreds of volunteers signed up online to work on the project, and many more stopped by the tent Monday along with many folks curious about how a plane can be built so quickly. Wearing gray "One Week Wonder" T-shirts, they used rivet guns to assemble the tail and wings underneath a red countdown clock that Monday afternoon told them they had just six days, 18 hours and 10 minutes left.

Under the watchful eyes of EAA staff members and experienced volunteers, folks who had built planes before and those who were picking up a tool for the first time worked side by side. Among the novices were Dan Plett and his son Chance, both pilots, who have visited Oshkosh previously and wanted to build a plane together.

The Pletts are gear heads who have spent much time working on cars. Now they want to build a plane.

"We're looking at what kits to buy, and we were looking at getting a Zenith anyway," said Dan Plett, 59, who traveled from Kansas to attend AirVenture.

"Plus it's fun. We enjoy spending the week at Oshkosh, and this will make it even better," added Chance Plett, 29, who lives in Oklahoma.

Zenith Aircraft donated the kit, and aircraft engine company Rotax contributed a new engine. When the aircraft is finished, EAA will fly it around the country to promote aviation.

But before the plane flies, it has to be built, likely by more than 1,000 people, including a group of more than 100 dedicated volunteers and the rest by anyone who stops by the tent to pop a rivet.

"It's something that even if you just pop a rivet you can say, 'Hey, that's my plane,'" Knapinski said.

The project is broken down into eight sections with volunteers at tables working on each segment including the tail, wings and rudder. The Zenith CH 750 kit usually takes around 800 person hours, said Roger Dubbert, who works in customer service for Zenith in Missouri. That translates to around a year to 11/2 years for one or two people working part time or six months of full-time work.

Without the volunteers and donated labor, the cost to build the same two-seat plane is around $70,000, including the engine and avionics.

And for anyone who might be leery of riding in a plane built in a week by volunteers and novices, Dubbert pointed out that the aircraft would undergo a rigorous inspection.

"Kit airplanes are very safe to begin with," Dubbert said. "It's not just being thrown together."

Among the volunteers is Jonathan Porter, who lives in Ghana and has used Zenith kit planes to teach engineering classes to girls, who have built three planes, and to drop health care education packets to people in remote areas. On Monday afternoon he showed Chance and Dan Plett how to install rivets on the plane's rudder.

"This is like building a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle with 1,000 workers," Porter said.

Copyright 2014 - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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