Engineering skills, or lack thereof, is a big problem within the industry today. Recently I have spent some time in Redcliffe, Queensland, and came across a group of enthusiastic aviators at Flight Youth Engineering that are working to solve the problem.

The idea is simple: get kids into the hangar to build a plane, then let them fly it. The outcome is even simpler: let them love aviation and understand the opportunities our industry presents. And it’s working.

Daniel Strydom is a shining example of the success that Flight Youth Engineering (FYE) has experienced. At just 16 years old, he’s achieved what many young people can only dream of thanks to the program. He has rebuilt an RV-14, gained his pilot’s certificate, is working on an RV-12 project and is now helping other students to tread the same path he has.

Ashley Miller, the brain behind the FYE initiative, aims to address the skills shortage by equipping and training passionate kids. As an experienced RV builder himself, Ashley has taken the initiative to share his knowledge with the next generation. He plays an active role filling the knowledge and skills gaps, as veteran aircraft maintainers enter their twilight years and retire.

Ashley is passionate too, and he’s proud of the achievements the 30 or so enrolled students reach. He wants to expand it to afford a new cohort of kids the chance to embark on their aviation journey. Ashley is a modest man, just “influencing the change that he can”. However, I believe he is doing something more – and perhaps the truth is best revealed through Daniel’s story.

Daniel came across FYE with nothing more than an interest in aviation and no hands-on experience. His first exposure to engineering in this space was through the rebuilding of an RV-14 that was heavily damaged in a landing incident. During the repair process several issues were found, including corrosion. Daniel quickly found himself painstakingly correcting the problems under the close guidance of Ashley and other mentors.

From there, Daniel went on to complete his pilot certificate training with Paul Reddish at Advanced Aviation Training Redcliffe, and demonstrated his unique talents are not limited to engineering. He has an aptitude for flying that parallels his passion for building, repairing and maintaining aircraft.

Daniel is also heavily involved in the building of an RV-12 that he will use to do his cross-country training before it is sold off to fund the next round of kids and a new RV-12 build. Aside from his aspirations to gain an apprenticeship in the maintenance world, Daniel is keen to stay true to his roots and become a mentor in his own right. He is already assisting students in the program and passing on the skills he has learned to others. It is this ‘full circle’ approach that has captured my attention the most.

We often see or hear of groups building an aircraft with kids and the amazing experience everyone gains through the process, but once the aircraft is built everyone seems to fade away. What Ash has set up is different. He has built a sustainable model where kids can build and fly their aircraft and then sell it so the next round of kids can do the same. It is tough to get started and funding is hard to come by, but the initiative is truly magical.

While others are lamenting about the loss of maintenance skills, Ash, Paul and the others at FYE are actually doing something about it. They are actively taking part and building the next generation of maintainers and have done it in a way that will continue on well after they hand over the reigns of the program to someone else. I have no doubt that people like Daniel will be the ones to take those reigns and lead the charge in future.

With a little bit of effort, a whole lot of support from current aviators and some real passion, our current skills shortages might become a thing of the past.

Flight Youth Engineering is a non-profit organisation that encourages school-aged youth into aviation, through hands-on experiences building and flying aircraft. If you would like to find out more, or help them expand, visit