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PROPELLING CAREERS: Program at Tehachapi Airport teaches high schoolers how to build planes

Tehachapi Build-a-Plane Inc. teaches students the proper skills to build airplanes: from electrical work and control panels to heavy-duty mechanical details
Posted at 4:20 PM, Nov 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-09 19:20:36-05
  • Video shows local high school students learning skills to put together an airplane at the Tehachapi Airport
  • Tehachapi Build-a-Plane Inc. is a nonprofit organization that teaches young people the necessary skills to construct airplanes
  • Everything the students work on is donated, and the program first took flight in 2018


Within the hangers at the Tehachapi Airport, there is a red Zenith plane, complete with flames painted on the side. What makes it so special isn’t just its fun paint job. It was built entirely by local high school students.

“That first time of me working with a tool I never thought I could use, that was something very special,” said Matthew Catalde, a student in the program.

Twice a week, high school students come to the airport to learn how to build an actual plane. It's through a program aptly named "Build-a-Plane," a nonprofit organization that teaches young people the all of the elements that go into constructing an airplane, from nose to tail.

“The students that go, it can change their lives. They see things they've never seen, they see opportunities they have not dreamed possible,” said Paul Nafziger, president of Tehachapi Build-a-Plane inc.

Calli Flahive is a freshman at Tehachapi High School. She’s been coming to the airport for the past two months to learn these skills, which is something that she hopes will one day help her achieve her dream job as an engineer for NASA.

“I was coming into this absolutely having no idea anything about building a plane whatsoever," said Flahive. "You can’t let other people’s ideas or other people's strengths when you may be weaker than them in certain areas to get to you so that you can continue to do what you love.”

The students learn foundational skills and are tested in certain areas before they progress to work on the actual plane. Attention to detail, reading engineering drawings and mechanical skills are key.

“I had to go through and drill out some rivets that were already there...I’ve probably drilled out, maybe, at least a thousand rivets…especially on the tail. When we got to that point, I was the only one who could fit, so I was assigned to that,” said student Aron Tinich.

Even if you aren’t interested in becoming an engineer, Tinich says it’s still a blast.

“A lot of great experiences, you meet a lot of fun people,” said Tinich.

Every piece of equipment the students work on is donated to the program. Classes are completely free for any student who wants to join, and, it could even help propel their future careers.

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