Wichita State partnership allows high-schoolers to build airplane in hands-on program

  • Wichita State University, Airbus and Tango Flight recently created a partnership in the Maize School District that provides the opportunity for high school students to build a two-seat airplane.
  • Graduate Students at Wichita State helped create the curriculum that is used on site. On site, aviation mentors are present to assist the students with the build. 

In the recent partnership among Wichita State University, Airbus and Tango Flight, the sky is the limit.

Tango Flight, a program that launched in 2016 in Georgetown, Texas, provides students the tools to build a two-seat airplane. The young learners are given applied-learning experiences before graduating high school.

“The program caught the eye of Airbus. They wanted to have more people that know-how to build and interact with airplanes,” said Chris Wyant, director of the Corbin Connect program, clinical educator and interim mathematics department chair at Wichita State University. “Eventually Airbus sponsored the program and started a site in the Maize school district.”

Maize was the first expansion for Tango Flight, which occurred two years ago. Since then, it has partnered with 12 other building sites across the country.

When the partnership began between Airbus and Tango Flight, Wyant was contacted to help develop curriculum for the students to follow in hopes of moving to a national audience.

“Before they contacted Wichita State, it was one person’s knowledge; and we needed to get the information onto paper in order to distribute to a mass audience,” Wyant said.

At Wichita State, graduate students were hired to develop videos, write the curriculum and develop problem sets for the students to engage with meaningfully. The curriculum equips them with the understanding of how to build an airplane and the process of aerospace engineering.

“It’s been a great opportunity for WSU to learn about curriculum and how to develop an airplane,” Wyant said. “There is a lot of tooling and processing that we have had to develop quickly and pick up on the build process in a matter of weeks.”

The Maize Tango Flight facility has many moving parts. Onsite, there is a full-time mentor from WSU Tech, Airbus Americas engineers, and community volunteers with aviation backgrounds who provide guidance and assistance to teach the students how to use the tools needed to build the plane.

“In order for Tango Flight to work, you need a well-developed community with an aerospace history to get the program up and running,” Wyant said.

It’s recommended that students be a junior or senior in high school before entering the program. The students who excel in the program usually have jobs in aerospace before they graduate.

The class functions as a lab-based course that offers hands-on experience and lectures. Students spend time in their teams of three to four individuals and either build the plane or in a classroom learning about the tools.

With Wichita being the Air Capital, it’s important for aircraft manufactures to seek opportunities that partner with other industries to build their workforce. Tango Flight provides an inside look to students on how aviation and airplanes operate. It’s a critical part in the applied learning aspect of schooling.

“For students, instead of only talking about wing structures, they can have hands-on experience building it, using the tools required and see the work in action,” Wyant said. “It’s like a very complicated Lego build with more specialized tools.”

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