HIGH-flying students took to the skies on Wednesday in an aeroplane they built themselves.

Pupils from Marling, Maidenhill and Stroud High School have spent four years constructing a two-seater RANS S6ES Coyote II aircraft from a complicated kit of parts.

The light aircraft was built as part of the Boeing Company and Royal Aeronautical Society Schools Build-a-Plane programme, with the support of the Light Aircraft Association.

The programme aims to inspire and encourage young people to study science, technology, engineering and maths.

The three schools began building the aeroplane in October 2009 and on Wednesday the plane was flown for the first time by students at Gloucestershire Airport in Staverton – marking the first student flight in the programme.

Stroud High student Alice McEllin, 18, was the first pupil to take to the skies in the aircraft, accompanied by a trained pilot, and even had a go at flying the plane herself.

“It was absolutely fantastic,” said Alice, who is hoping to study chemistry at York University in September.

“Although I was a little scared it was great to see all of our hard work finally in action.

“It’s incredible to think that a group of teenagers built a plane, and even better a plane we can fly in.”

To date, more than 200 students from the schools have participated in the challenge, working on everything from electronics and engineering to marketing, web design and project management.

Steve Berry, head of design technology at Marling School, has been leading the school side of the project since the beginning.

The students met after school, on weekends and during the holidays in order to construct the plane.

“As a school we have worked with Boeing in the past to deliver various projects and when the opportunity to build a working plane came up there was just no way I could turn it down,” said Mr Berry.

“It is brilliant to see the students flying something which has taken us the best part of four years to build.

“It is such a great experience for them and it will be great for them to mention when they are applying for universities and jobs as I don’t think many of the candidates will have ‘built and aeroplane’ on their applications.”

Ian McNeil, programme manager for Boeing, said: “By taking students away from a computer screen and giving them something practical to do we are encouraging them to take an interest in engineering and the core subjects required for that vocation.

“Boeing has 15,000 employees in Gloucestershire and I am sure that some of the pupils involved in this project are going to work for Boeing in the future.”

Simon Luxmoore, chief executive of the RAeS, said: “This project has brought those involved in to the exciting world of aviation and aerospace.

“This is a ground-breaking initiative, and we thank Boeing for their continued support and enthusiasm, which allows us to introduce our exciting sector to those engineers and pilots of tomorrow.”