Students build UF's first aircraft, will be shown as part of Engineers' Week

A team of about 45 UF students is expecting to finish building an airplane Sunday.

UF’s AeroGators club started the university’s first student-built aircraft in Spring 2013. The aircraft, which holds two people, will be shown Feb. 23 as part of UF’s Engineers’ Week. The plane cost $16,000 to build and was funded by outside donations and sponsors, said Justin Smith, the president of AeroGators. The airplane is almost complete and just needs to pass tests to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration before the club presents it, he said.

Ryan Fiol, the treasurer of AeroGators, said the plane is a kit aircraft, meaning a company provides the parts and instructions to build it.

Smith, 21, said using a kit aircraft was a cheaper alternative to finding separate parts. Since Fall 2015, the club has worked on the airplane at the University Air Center, Fiol, 19, said. Before then, they worked at the former president’s house.

“Over the course of a year, I’ve probably touched each piece of the craft at least once in one meeting,” Fiol, a UF aerospace engineering sophomore, said.

Last year, the club came close to finishing the plane, but they had to start over after the plane was exposed to weather, he said.

“We let it sit over summer in our former president’s yard, and it got humid, so we had to strip out all the fabric,” Fiol said.

The club hopes to sell the aircraft after it’s completed to earn back some of the money spent and use it for future projects, he said. It has to pass the FAA’s tests and regulations. In addition to the title of first student-built aircraft at the university, each member of the club will get to ride in the plane when it’s done, he said. After they’ve finished the plane, Fiol said he thinks it will help AeroGators get corporate sponsors for future projects.

Smith, a UF aerospace engineering senior, said the goal was to help engineering students make concepts learned in class a reality.

“The original goal wasn’t to say, ‘This is the one and only student-built aircraft at the University of Florida,’” Smith said. “But participating in that means a lot to the students.”

They decided to unveil the finished product at Engineers’ Week due to high attendance, Smith said.

“We’re hoping it’ll spur some interest in aircrafts,” Smith said. He’s looking forward to UF students seeing the plane, he said.

“When you see an airplane in the middle of North Lawn, that’s pretty freaking awesome,” he said.

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