Lowell High School senior Alex Taylor plans to change the face of aviation by creating an autonomous low-cost aircraft that will be easier and safer to fly than the car you drive.
For Alex, these are more than study hall daydreams. When he’s not at school, he’s the founder and CEO of Windcraft Aviation, a company he operates out of a hangar at the Lowell Airport. He’s got financial backers and is working on prototypes of the design.
Alex says he is building “Sally Jean,” a prototype of the aircraft he named after his grandmother. “She had a very resilient quality about her,” says the teenager, who spent much of his boyhood in the Middle East with his missionary parents.
“I have a vision for aviation that is viable,” says Alex, noting his design features 12 rotors and vertical takeoff capabilities similar to remote-controlled drones. The electrical propulsion system will use fuel cell technology. His autonomous plane will be embedded with a host of safety features designed to remove the risks associated with a pilot-flown aircraft.
Alex credits his ambitious project to Kent Career Tech Center instructor Todd Olson, who encouraged him to pursue his passion and opened doors for him in the aviation industry. “Without Mr. Olson, I probably would not have taken the next step,” he says.
Safety, Discipline, New Technology
Olson, who teaches aviation maintenance, is a 19-year instructor at the Tech Center, located in a hangar facility on the edge of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. He partners with Nick Brown, who teaches aviation electronics.
Together, Olson and Brown guide about 50 students a year through their two-year program, which introduces high school students to the technical side of the aviation industry outside of the cockpit. The program puts a high emphasis on the precise procedures and discipline needed to maintain an aircraft.
“We’re here to show the students the basic safety procedures of aviation maintenance,” says Olson. “They’re not on a screen anymore,” he adds, referring to the risk-free environment that flight simulators and online games offer when mistakes are made.
Inside the hangar, students will find several light aircraft, a military helicopter and a collection of power plants that are used to give students hands-on experience with the principles of aircraft engines and navigation systems.
Olson said Kent ISD recently approved the purchase of a Rotex 914, a $35,000 aircraft engine whose design is found in 85 light aircraft. Mounted on a testbed, the new engine will give his students hands-on experience with the newest standard in the aviation technology.
Brown, a Hudsonville native who spent seven years in the U.S. Air Force, teaches his students the basics of aviation electronics. He has students build electronic boards that can be used to guide aircraft or be applied to other industries.
Brown emphasizes and teaches the meticulous industry standards required for aviation electronics. “People’s lives depend on this business,” says Brown. “You really have to do your best and accept the challenge.”
Dozens of Career Options
That focus on industry standards and procedure helps their students succeed if they go on to college or seek employment in the aviation industry, which offers students 45 disciplines that can become the basis for a career, Olson says.
Isaac Hazenberg, a home-schooled senior from Grand Rapids, says the Tech Center program will help him next year when he enters the School of Mission Aviation Technology at Grace Christian University.
The classes he is taking at the Tech Center confirm his decision to pursue a career in aviation, says Isaac, who hopes to eventually become an engineer in the aviation industry.
“It’s a lot of fun and you can learn a lot about aviation if you’re willing to work hard,” he says.