A group of South African teenagers has assembled a four-seater airplane and is flying it across the continent. Aviation experts say this a significant feat, one that will inspire teens who want to be pilots, engineers or anything else.
Seventeen-year-old Megan Werner is a pilot, even though she doesn’t have a driver’s license yet. Her U-Dream Global nonprofit helped a diverse group of 20 African teenagers assemble a light aircraft. Werner and some of her colleagues left Cape Town this week for a round-trip flight to Cairo, with stops in 11 countries along the way.
“If you’re a teenager and you’ve already built a plane, you can say to yourself, ‘Well, I’ve built a plane while I was a teenager, what else can I do?’ And then for the teenagers flying across Africa, just to be able to make a difference and show people what is possible is really inspiring,” she said.
Agnes Semeela helped to assemble the fuselage for the kit aircraft, which the teens built under qualified adult supervision.
“I know for a fact that my team did their best, their absolute best, and I’m very confident that this airplane will make it to Cairo and back,” she said.
During the maiden flight event, the South African teens saw their plane take to the air for the first time. Aspiring pilot Lesego Ngoashen is now even more interested in aviation after learning about building aircraft by being part of the U-Dream Global assembling team.
“Seeing that’s now no longer like adult people engaging in this industry, but also young people can get involved in such projects, I think it’s going to inspire a lot of people to actually join aviation,” she said.
Adults along for the ride
With both her parents working in aviation, Werner’s interest in flying is no surprise. Her father, Des Werner, an airline pilot, will fly along in a second plane for the trip from southern to northern Africa and back.
“The plan is crazy enough, it doesn’t need to be that crazy that my daughter must fly across Africa by herself,” he said. “So, I’ll go and check that she’s OK. Course I’ve got a bit more experience than what she has, and I’m there just to support and make the right decisions.”
The other adult pilot, Werner Froneman, is the U-Dream Global Project director, coach. He will also follow the teens on their cross-continental journey.
“Obviously fatigue plays a big role that we need to manage with the students, so that we can make sure that they are always awake. That they’re always sharp to be able to make the right decisions,” he said. “This is going to stretch their limits.”
The hands-on involvement by teenagers can only help Africa’s aviation industry, says Athol Franz, editor of African Pilot Magazine.
“Because, the older guys like myself, have to realize that young people are going to replace us,” he said. “And the better skilled they are, and the more they know, and the more excited they are about aviation, the better for aviation in the world.”
The U-Dream Global team will travel some 12,000 kilometers during the round trip flight. Along the way, they’ll take other teenagers up in the plane to inspire them to also reach for greater heights.