Pretty fly: Teen-built plane in Cape-to-Cairo flip
Six youngsters will fly the Sling-4 across Africa after 20 students aged 13 to 18 assembled the aircraft
A plane built by SA teens will be piloted from Cape Town to Cairo in June by ... more teens.
Twenty students aged between 13 and 18 helped assemble a compact Sling-4 plane from thousands of parts in just three weeks as part of the inaugural Cape-to-Cairo Challenge.
Now the challenge will continue with six teen pilots navigating the aircraft from SA to Egypt and back once final flight inspections and certifications have been completed. The journey is expected to take five to six weeks.
“It is all about youth development, youth opportunity,” said U-Dream Global project manager Werner Froneman. “People are going to think, how is it possible that kids can build an aircraft?”
The challenge was made possible largely because of Megan Werner, a 17-year-old pilot from Cape Town who founded U-Dream Global.
The challenge was inspired by her passion for flying, something she has done since she was 15 with her pilot father.
“I thought, what is the next inspirational thing I can do?” said Megan. “I really love aviation, and both my parents are in aviation.”
Thus the challenge, which merged her passions of flying and inspiring others, was born. The selection process for the building team was extensive, whittling a list of thousands of interested students down to 20. The six pilots were chosen through an application process that included interviews, simulation tests and technical exams.
Training was then provided for the diverse group of students before assembly began.
Megan said the group underwent two days of instruction to learn how to use certain tools and read engineering drawings.
Even though the plane was supplied through a factory-provided kit, interpreting the directions still provided a great challenge and was a growing experience.
“The challenge has enabled us to take a lot of teenagers from different backgrounds to teach and equip them with life skills that they can take with them into the future,” she said.
The plane has already undergone a test flight and is in working order.
The Sling-4 was chosen because it has been tested: the model has already flown twice around the world. It generally seats four passengers and can hold 450kg.
The weight restriction means only three people will be able to travel at any given time on the Cairo trip, since luggage will also have to be accounted for.
Adult supervisors, including Froneman, will be using a second Sling-4 to follow along as the teenage pilots fly the self-assembled plane.
The timeline was extended to about five weeks to give pilots ample time to rest between flights, according to Froneman, who said safety was the main priority.
The teen pilots will help chart a course across Namibia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Egypt. Their return trip will include Uganda, Rwanda and Zambia.
“I’m super excited,” said Megan, who received her pilot’s licence in time for the adventure. “But I do know it’s going to be a lot of hard work.”
She hopes the challenge will inspire others through motivational speeches in the places they land.
“Throughout Africa, we are hoping to [impact] thousands of lives of the youth that are the future of the continent,” she said.