On Friday, Local 4 News first reported that high school students in Eldridge were taking their dreams to new heights by building their own airplane.

Photojournalist Mike Colón was there and captured a more up-close look at the work they put in to get their project off the ground.

He spoke with Gregory Stopyra, of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), who gave more insight on the purpose of the project.

“The mission of EAA is to really grow participation in aviation by promoting the spirit of aviation. One of the things we’re doing to promote that spirit of aviation is to support local school districts here,” said Stopyra. “And, in fact, three of them — Pleasant Valley, North Scott and Bettendorf — and they’ve decided to build an aircraft.”

Stephanie Stellmach, a senior at Bettendorf High School, described the progress she and the rest of her fellow students made so far on the project.

“Right now, we’re kind of working on the tail cone of the plane,” said Stellmach. “Just kind of riveting the skin and the skeleton altogether.”

Stopyra says the students have a strong interest in aviation.

“They’re all very enthusiastic about aviation, and a lot of them are aspiring,” said Stopyra. “They want to go to college. They want to study engineering.”

Stellmach joined the club to help foster her desire to become an aerospace engineer.

“I want to be an aerospace engineer when I get older, so when I heard about this club, I figured it’d be kind of good to get into building an airplane,” said Stellmach. “That’s kind of what I want to design.”

Before the project began, students went through a series of training.

“These kids came in with very little experience. We brought them in, we do a training program to teach them the basic skills of working with sheet metal and aluminum,” said Stopyra. “And then from that, we get into the basic kits, and they learn step-by-step how to assemble this, and it’s very detailed plans … and they’re able to just build it and construct it … almost like a big erector set or a LEGO set.”

Stellmach explains how building an aircraft from scratch involves a lot of moving parts.

“Just going through, riveting all of the pieces, moving around little clamps that are called clecos to make sure that the skin stays tight to the frame,” said Stellnach.

Stopyra says the project is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for these students.

“This is a two-seat aircraft that’s classified as a light sport aircraft,” said Stopyra. “This is a tremendous opportunity. In fact, if I had this opportunity when I was in high school, I would have jumped on it at a moment’s notice. To have this opportunity, and the schools that are committed to it … and really, the backing of the local community to really kind of pour into the schools … this is an opportunity the kids have here that will be unmatched with anything else they may experience in their entire life.”

Once the project is complete, students plan to sell the plane and use the proceeds to buy a new kit.

This is all part of an effort to keep the club rolling down the runway in the future.