Granger students build airplane
WEST JORDAN - Math and science don't always have to revolve around books and calculators.
And with the unveiling of his class's self-built aircraft Saturday, Granger High School teacher Scott Lewis showed his students how those sometimes tedious concepts - mixed with just the right recipe of fiberglass, aluminum and paint - could help them soar to new heights.
A group of 50 students toiled for 2 1/2 years to piece together Excalibur, a red-and-white Velocity airplane. They came from all different studies, such as auto-body courses, arts and graphics.
Some even signed up for an aerospace technology course with a single goal in mind: to fly.
"I didn't have much experience, other than a junior high shop class," said 18-year-old John Wallis, who recalled assembling the flaps on Excalibur's front wings and installing the dash.
Wallis, who would eventually like to be a pilot, was surprised to find airplane engines typically go in the back of a plane, and that they are built mostly with fiberglass.
"There was almost no metal - just aluminum. It kind of tripped me out," Wallis said. "This has been really cool though. A lot of people say, 'Oh Granger, that's the school with all the drugs and no budget.' But I don't know any other schools that have built an airplane."
But the unveiling at Salt Lake Municipal Airport wasn't exactly another Kitty Hawk experience.
The mostly finished Excalibur was grounded in the hangar, still awaiting the delivery of its propeller, while teens took rides in colorful single-engine planes that zipped through a windy, blue sky.
For students like Cory Christopher - who wants to work with cars and dabble in aeronautics - it was good to finally see the plane complete and in its natural setting.
"When we started, it looked like it was made out of cardboard. You could put your foot through it," he said. "This is amazing. But it's a very odd feeling now that it's done - it's bittersweet."
Air Force Lt. Debra North also presented Lewis with the Air Force Association's teacher-of-the-year award Saturday, recognizing him for getting kids involved in math and science through his outside-of-the-box methods. He now moves on to be considered for a national award.
Lewis thanked a slew of sponsors, which the class recognized with decals that pepper the plane along with Granger's mascot and several students' names. A credit union foundation, called 100 Percent For Kids, gave the school a $15,000 grant for the plane project, part of $4.5 million it's given to classrooms since its 2002 inception.
Lewis said 80 percent of home-built aircraft are never completed, so he praised his class for driving off campus and working with fiberglass - which is a skin irritant - every day to finish the project.
"These students came to this class with no idea," Lewis said, adding some were putting their masks on sideways or even using the sandpaper wrong in the first days.
"This has truly been a ground-up experience."