Having worked in the airlines for three decades, John Cronin, EAA 743391, saw firsthand the decline in younger generations’ involvement and pursuit of aviation as a career choice or hobby. Last spring, he set out to change that.
“I was at the airline level for 30 years,” John said. “I joined EAA many years ago. With the lack of the younger generation and kids and all that, I thought it would be good to have kids involved in an airplane project.”
With his experience building a Pietenpol over the past 10 years, John selected a Mini-MAX as his kit of choice because it too is primarily made of wood and is relatively cheap.
“I’ve been working on a Pietenpol for a really long time, off and on, about 10 years now. I learned a lot working with wood and stuff,” he said. “For the kids, I thought I should do something on the cheap side and that’s simple to build. I went with a Mini-MAX because the plans looked really great. There’s a good support group and it’s relatively inexpensive, especially without the engine. The engine’s like $6,000 right there, but the rest of it’s not expensive at all, maybe $10,000.”
Initially John, who is the president and secretary of EAA Chapter 839 in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, was planning on using his chapter’s hangar as a base for the project, which he’s named Kids Building Planes. But because of the hangar’s lack of tools for use on wood, he eventually decided to move the project to his own workshop.
“For the first few months we were at the hangar and it just wasn’t working,” John said. “The guys in the chapter are very much into metal and they didn’t have anything I needed for wood. I moved it all into my shop, where I’d been building the Pietenpol.”
With 14 kids initially involved, John knew that jamming all of them into his shop at the same time simply wasn’t feasible, so a schedule was eventually created in which two kids at a time would stop by for around an hour one day a week to help out with the build. Unfortunately due to COVID-19, John’s project was put on a pause for a number of months and a few of the kids involved had to drop out of the build. Currently there are seven active members helping out on a weekly basis.
So far, the vertical stabilizer, horizontal stabilizer, and rudder have been completed, the elevator is being currently being framed, and around 10 ribs are built. The next large section the group will take on is the wings.
“The kids are very engaged, they’re very interested,” John said. “They’re soaking it up like a sponge. Sometimes I’ll have some of the kids try and teach other kids what I’ve shown them and they’ll remember it. They’re definitely learning everything. It’s exciting for them to actually see the part when it’s done, to actually hold up the horizontal stabilizer. They remember when it’s just being drawn out and they’re cutting the wood to shape and all that. They’re very much into it and learning to use the tools and the power equipment.”
Although a large majority of the airplane still needs to be built, John pointed out that the learning experience and aviation enthusiasm that comes from the building process is his true goal.
“The end result of a complete airplane isn’t the goal,” he said. “The goal is coming in and learning how to use the sander and the band saw and cutting these pieces [of wood] to shape. Reading the plans and putting it together. It’d be great if the thing flies one day. But really the main thing is for them to come in here and learn how to read plans and aerodynamics and aircraft design. … It doesn’t even have to fly. They’re still learning everything.”