July 31, 2013 - As a preschooler, Austin Malcomb recalls sitting on a pillow in the copilot seat of his grandfather's 172, just so he could reach the controls and see over the dashboard.
Even then, he says he knew he wanted to be a pilot. So it isn't a surprise that Malcomb soloed the first moment he could - on January 4, 2013, his 16th birthday. But what is a little surprising is the airplane he soloed in.
He - and 15 other students - built the RV-12, called Eagle's Nest One, in the engineering classroom of Jennings County High School, of North Vernon, Indiana.
Bob Kelly founded Eagle's Nest in fall 2010. The program has now expanded to six states and has students building light-sport aircraft from plans and parts within schools, and then using those aircraft to teach flight training.
"About 115 kids have been involved since the beginning of the program, but since the project is in the school it has touched thousands of students," Kelly says.
Malcomb says he heard about Eagle's Nest while at an EAA Chapter 1328 activity. He immediately knew it was something he wanted to participate in.
Working mainly summers and two nights a week after school, the students built the plane, piece by piece. But the most challenging part of the project was staying with it, says Malcomb, who will be a high school junior in the fall.
"After a while, you just get tired of it because it gets boring," he says. "But you have to keep going."
There is an incentive to stay with the project, however. Those students that do complete the project and attend EAA AirVenture Oshkosh get 20 hours of flight instruction for free.
"The only thing you have to pay for is your logbook," Malcomb says. "There is no reason to not want to be part of the project."
Two other students have since soloed in the RV-12.
Malcomb says flying the RV-12 is "like driving a sports car." That's because the only other small plane he's flown in has been the 172, he explains.
Malcomb says his father, a commercial pilot, and grandfather suspected he would be nervous when he realized his flight instructor wasn't in the other seat for his solo. "But I was calm throughout."
He now has about 35 hours logged in the plane, and he's already planning to pass his checkride on his 17th birthday and become a certificated private pilot.
Malcomb hopes to build his own plane and become a commercial pilot someday. "But I'll do anything, as long as I can be in a cockpit," he says.