Nonprofit Spotlight: TeenFlight Puyallup

Many kids have assembled a model airplane or simple toy glider made from card stock, wood or foam. But how many kids can claim that they have built an operational aircraft—start to finish—and learned to fly it? A group of high school students that meet twice a week in Hangar #6 at Thun Field Pierce County airport can. These students are a part of TeenFlight Puyallup, a nonprofit organization where experienced builders, engineers, pilots and mechanics volunteer their time as mentors to students interested in aviation. From September to June, students from all over Puyallup and surrounding areas gather for hands-on “build” sessions to assemble (from the ground up) a 20-foot light sport aircraft.

working students
Blueprints
“As mentors, we are very hands off,” says Kevin Behrent, President of TeenFlight Puyallup. “We work as a team with the students, but we let them take the lead.” Kevin has built several planes himself and knows that it is no simple task. “The students learn it all…working with metal, fiberglass, plumbing, wiring, and cutting-edge technology. Many students join us with no prior experience. When they walk in the door, our expectation is that they don’t know how to use any kind of tool.” The team of mentors at TeenFlight Puyallup are devoted to supporting, teaching leadership skills, and igniting passion in the next generation of kids who dream of flying or working in the aviation industry. “We teach the kids building skills and how to read plans, but we also provide career mentoring,” Kevin explained. Since its formation in 2012, several graduates of the TeenFlight Puyallup program have gone on to pursue an education in Aviation Technology, and one student recently became an Officer with SkyWest Airlines.

When a student arrives at their first “build” session at TeenFlight, they are handed a thick set of blueprints. No time is wasted, and the building begins almost immediately. The airplane they build is called an experimental light sport aircraft, and the finished product weighs only about 700 pounds. It is built from an airplane kit manufactured locally in Oregon. Airplanes are not cheap to build, so pieces of the kit are purchased as funding allows. TeenFlight Puyallup is supported by Alaska Airlines as well as private donors. Though it faces its own fundraising challenges, nothing seems to stop Kevin, the other mentors, and students at TeenFlight from achieving their goals. Currently, the students are working on raising money to purchase an enclosed trailer so they can transport their airplane-in-progress to local schools in Puyallup for hands-on outreach with other students, spreading their passion for aviation with their peers. They also save money all year to attend the Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture Conference in OshKosh, Wisconsin.

Once TeenFlight students finish the grueling work of building their airplane, they have the option of spending a second year learning to fly it. After a series of inspections and testing, Terry O’Brien, TeenFlight mentor and Senior Captain with United Airlines gives students free flight training (an opportunity that would otherwise cost them between $12,000- $15,000). At the completion of flight training, TeenFlight students earn their sport pilot’s license…an exciting reward after two years of studying and putting sweat equity into their aircraft. When all is said and done, the plane is then auctioned off to fund the purchase of the next aircraft built by a new group of TeenFlight students. Even after new faces arrive, many of the former TeenFlight students choose to remain involved. “We have students returning from college during their breaks that stop in to help with builds,” Kevin said. Every Sunday and Monday night, in Hangar #6, you can find a group of focused students accompanied by supportive parents and committed mentors working steadily on their aircraft with one thing in common: a love and passion for aviation.

kids working

TeenFlight Puyallup is a free 1-2 year program serving high school students in Puyallup and surrounding areas. Learn more at teenflight.org or on Facebook.

teen flight group