In a bid to fulfil his childhood dream of flying a plane, an Ethiopian man has taught himself how to build one mainly by reading aviation books and watching YouTube tutorials!
Public Health Officer and Ethiopian Airlines Aviation Academy reject Asmelash Zerefu set about learning to build his own aircraft over a decade ago. It was a daunting challenge, but he has managed to achieve the unthinkable – he single-handedly constructed Ethiopia’s first ever home-built aircraft from scratch.
“I call it the K-570A,” he said. “K representing my mother’s initial of her name, Kiros, and 570 signifying the number of days it took me to complete my aircraft. And A is for Aircraft.”
Zerefu’s social media profile is proof enough of his obsession with aviation – it is full with pictures of his own attempts and failures, and praise for his heroes, the Wright Brothers. His only goal since childhood was to become a pilot, so despite his high GPA, he dropped out of university to join the Ethiopian Airlines Aviation Academy about 15 years ago. Sadly, he was turned down because he was one centimeter short of the minimum height requirement.
But Zerefu refused to let this setback alter his ultimate goal. “That was a turning point,” he told The Telegraph. “That was when I decided to build my own airplane in order to fulfil my lifelong dream of flight. This was in 2001.” He pored over FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) maintenance books, searched the internet for aircraft blueprints, and of course, watched hundreds of tutorials on YouTube. He then collected all the materials he needed and spent over a year working on them until his dream flying machine was finally ready.
As a part of the process, Zerefu incorporated the design of the Clark-Y Airfoil Wing into his own unique plans. He also scoured garages, workshops, and Merkato – Africa’s largest market – for new and used materials to build the aircraft. He first constructed the fuselage from wood and then mounted it on the modified wheelbase of an old Suzuki motorcycle. The wings took months to complete, and once they were ready, he attached them to the body.
Then, Zerefu focused on building the engine. “My aircraft is powered by a second-hand Volkswagen Beetle engine,” he explained. “It is a horizontally-opposed 40 horsepower engine; 4 stroke, 4 cylinders and it can run at up to 3,000 rpm.” For the final touches, he added a handmade and conditioned laminated wooden propeller before giving the craft a final coat of white paint.
The K-570A is a two-seat, open-tandem, parasol light aircraft, designed to fly “slow and low”. The entire project cost Zerefu 160,000 Ethiopian Birr (over $7,500) to complete. “I came across many, many challenges to build my aircraft,” he said. “People surrounding me considered me mad, and it took many trials and errors to build it. Financial problems were another limitation in making my African aviation innovation possible. But despite those difficulties and obstacles, I am close to fulfilling my dream.”
Although the aircraft is ready, Zerefu is yet to fly it successfully. He tried flying it in June this year, but the propeller shattered due to friction and damaged the plane’s smoke exit structure. He was forced to return to the drawing board to make more changes, but he’s determined to fly the K-570A at least once before the year is up.
“I want to fly 10 meters above the ground,” he said. “By doing so, I will be the first person in African aviation history who has built an aircraft (that’s) able to fly high up in the sky. I would like to appear in international media, and promote Africa in terms of science and technology.”
Photos: Asmelash Zerefu/Facebook