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Self-Taught Ethiopian Aviation Enthusiast Builds His Own Airplane

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.


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.

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