By air, it is some 7,455 miles from Cape Town to Cairo. But a group of South African teens now sees possibilities that extend far beyond that.
Twenty of them, plucked from various backgrounds by an aviation initiative known as U-Dream Global, built the four-seat plane currently in the process of making that continent-length journey. Six of them are alternating as pilots, having obtained their licenses last year.
The latter group is headed by 17-year-old Megan Werner, who founded U-Dream in 2018.
“The purpose of the initiative is to show Africa that anything is possible if you set your mind to it,” she told BBC News.
With the help of her parents, both of whom are in the aviation industry, she started U-Dream. Over 1,000 teens applied for spots on the team. Those who were selected built the plane, known as a Sling 4, under adult supervision from a kit made by the Airplane Factory, a South African company.
Some reports said it took three weeks to build, others two, but in the estimation of Werner Froneman, U-Dream’s project director and coach, the finished product was something special.
“It’s got magic,” he told SABC News. “It’s got a very, very special place — not because it’s the U-Dream aircraft, but because it was something that was never done before. And the kids arrived there thinking it was something that wasn’t going to be done.”
“What I found amazing about the project,” Werner said in one video interview, “is everybody walked in there and didn’t know anybody from a bar of soap. Then two weeks later we walked out as a united family.”
The journey began June 15 in Cape Town, with the hope that it would be completed on or about July 7. Eleven stops in eight countries were planned along the way (though one in Kenya was scrubbed due to routing issues), and the team hoped to deliver inspirational messages at each of them.
A support plane flown by adult professionals is accompanying the teen pilots.
“What this project is, is empowering, equipping and transforming people, all around the world,” Froneman told SABC News, “into the leaders they were born to be. This project changes the way people think, and what they believe is possible.”