Ever Fancied Building Your Own… Aeroplane


Well the education team at the, soon to be formed, North Suffolk Skills Academy (NSSA) decided that doing just that would be the pinnacle of their BTEC Diploma in Aeronautical Engineering. Their next problem was how to go about such a project: Where to get the kit from? Where to build the aeroplane? How to build it? Where to operate it from? Oh, and how to fund it? And how long will it take?

However, before answering those questions, some more details about the NSSA. The NSSA is a new venture that sees Bungay High School taking over the running of the former North Suffolk Skills Centre, based at the old Halesworth Middle School, which will see, in addition to the rebranding, the establishment of an Aeronautical Engineering Department and the establishment of a number of new courses. The Academy will take students from a number of partner schools and will offer education and vocational training for students at L2 (GCSE) and L3 (A Level). Work is already under way to upgrade the IT facilities and to equip the aeronautical engineering workshop with new tooling including centre lathes, sheet metalwork tools and TIG welding equipment.

Now that the educational and support structures are in place, what about actually building that aeroplane?

First of all, where do you get the kit from? Well the Academy has decided that they will build a Sherwood Ranger aircraft, as shown in the photo. This aircraft comes in a number of forms and the one the Academy have selected is the fully aerobatic version. The kits are made by The Light Aircraft Company at their headquarters in Little Snoring – a local company.

Next, where to build the aeroplane? This is slightly easier. The Halesworth Middle School is currently empty and the County Council have agreed that the Aeronautical Department can use a complex of buildings at the back of the school opposite the Academy’s main building. The plan is to set up: a tool store; a ‘goods in’ and parts store room; a manufacturing and assembly area; and a storage area for completed components.

Now, how to build the aeroplane? This may seem an easy question, but the Academy have decided that, in a first for this type of build, that the aeroplane will be built using industry methods and to industry standards. That means, full control of all parts received, formal tool control procedures, ‘skill of hand’ tests for the students before they are able to start work on the aircraft and adherence to industrial working practices. This then lead to the supplementary question – ‘how do we get hold of these industry standards and practices?’, which is where the BAE Systems team at RAF Marham come in, as, following an approach from the Academy, the Company has agreed, in conjunction with the RAF, to support the project by providing details of the procedures and practices it uses within CMU and by providing mentors, under the Education Ambassador Programme, to supervise and help the students with the build and provide a ‘real life’ input to the project, along with a visit or two to RAF Marham, the first of which took place in May and the photos show the students being shown around CMU, where they were able to see the tool control and piece part spares control measures being implemented.

Ok, so the aircraft gets built, where to operate it from? Again the Academy have already sorted this and, in conjunction with the Flying Club at RAF Honington, have agreed that the aeroplane will be housed and operated from RAF Honington. In addition, members of the Flying Club will also provide specialist support and the formal ‘sign off’ of the aircraft during the build and air experience flights once the aeroplane is completed.

Now to the thorny subjects of funding and how long the project will take. The Academy has already secured ‘seed funding’ which will be used to purchase the airframe so the project can be started, but more funding will be required to buy the engine and instruments. In addition, BAE Systems have been approached to buy the tools to set up the workshop. As to the timescales, the Academy is working on establishing the facility so that it is ready in time for the start of the new academic year in September, with a formal opening ceremony to be held in October. The students will start their course in September and complete an element of the academics and skill of hand training before Christmas, after which the build phase will start in parallel to their continued academic studies. It is intended that the aeroplane will be completed and ready to fly before the students sit their exams in 2 years’ time.

In addition to receiving a formal Level 3 BTEC Diploma in Aeronautical Engineering, it is intended that the students will also receive a Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) Aviation Studies Certificate and the Academy is working with the RAeS to ensure this is available.

If you would like to know more about the project, or wish to get involved as an Education Ambassador, please contact either Euan Lucie-Smith on Ext: 7490 or Baz Reed on Ext: 7385. There will also be the opportunity to meet some of the students and see a Sherwood Ranger at the Families’ Day on 22nd August and we will try to keep you updated on progress with the project through regular articles in Marham Matters.