Plane builder wants kids flying again

BACK in the 1990s, students from Ballina High School were lucky enough to be able to build their own aircraft, with help from plane manufacturer Howard Hughes.

He is proud to say that one of those students later co-piloted the first Virgin jet to land at the Ballina-Byron Gateway Airport.

In fact, Mr Hughes is proud of many of his former students.

He once ran a flying school in the hope that some of his students would eventually work for his company, Australian LightWing.

“But that never, ever happened,” he said.

“Instead they all got these terrific careers with commercial airlines, or the air force.”

Mr Hughes also had a strong partnership with Ballina High School, and that is something he hopes to rekindle in the near future.

This week he gave a tour of his workshop to aeronautical engineering students from Ballina and Alstonville high schools.

“I would love it if the schools would start thinking about building an aircraft again,” Mr Hughes said.

“This tour was the first step towards that.

“I think the program we had with Ballina High School in the 90s was very, very successful and it would be great to get it going again.

“At the moment the students don't get a lot of hands-on experience.”

Mr Hughes first trialled a partnership “many years ago” with a high school in Warwick.

But back then the idea was not well-accepted.

“They thought I was mad,” he said.

“When I told them what I wanted to do, they said, ‘children flying aircraft? That's ridiculous'.

“But the fact is that you can start flying planes when you're 15, well before you can get your driver's licence.

“Kids pick up flying skills really easily – they learn fast and they are fearless.

“When I was growing up the closest we got to real, hands-on industry experience was sailing model boats in bath tubs.

“That's not what things should be like these days.”

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