When Truro School Built An Aeroplane

This article was written by Florian, a student from Germany who took part in a 10-day-long work experience exchange programme. He was in the 11th grade at the time and saw this exchange as a way of broadening his horizon, getting to know a different culture and improving his English.

For my work experience in Truro I’m working in the archive of the Truro School, the biggest independent school in Cornwall. My first job seemed quite simple: Just look around the archive, find something that you think is interesting and write an article about it.

Now that sounds simple enough but it turns out there’s quite a lot of interesting stuff about the history of this school which makes the choice not that easy after all. There are many interesting stories about the first and second world war in which this school seems so far away from those worldwide conflicts but at the same time is strangely connected to it, be it through teachers and pupils going to war and never coming back or through the school’s cadet corps where many students, even some first-graders learned to march and shoot. There’s also the “Truro School Dramatic Society” which had some actors on school stage way before they turned famous, like John Davies who portrayed Gimli in Lord of the Rings or Robert Shaw who took part in the second James Bond film (“From Russia with Love”) as well as in Spielberg’s famous thriller film “Jaws”. But in the end I decided to write about one thing, more or less 40 years ago, that seems to me particularly impressing and amazing.

The Truro School Aeroplane

It all started in Easter of the year 1978, when a group of fourth year students decided to build a plane as an educational project with the help of Mr Keam, Head of DT. A plan like this sounds, at least for me, even today like a highly ambitious project, but in the late 80’s building a plane was a lot more difficult than it would be today.

Initial Stage of Plane Construction

Additionally these kids had no experience whatsoever in building planes, nor did they have any money (the 4000-plus cost was sponsored partly by BP Oil’s project “Challenge to Youth”). Fortunately for the students Mr Keam was on hand to guide them. Despite going through all kinds of difficulties, which included spending two weeks of their summer holidays correcting a drilling mistake, they finished the skeleton of the plane except for the engine and the instruments in September 1979.

It was an all-grades project with the younger students doing the cutting, shaping and sanding and the older ones being responsible for the planning, delegation and assembly. They used an American set of plans for a model named Evans VP2 to build this extremely lightweight plane using a modified Volkswagen engine and after some problems with the conversion of the engine and some hairy test flights, the maiden flight finally took place on June 17, 1981 with a 25-mile flight around the city and over the school. Having achieved all this, which I think is already really incredible, they didn’t think about stopping but instead went for a record-breaking flight: In June 1982 the “Spirit of Truro”, as it was named by Prince Charles 2 years earlier, flew all the way from Truro over the channel to the town of Morlaix in France.

Spirit of Truro takes to the skies

I think that successfully finishing such an enormous and difficult project is an incredible achievement and that such projects are exactly the right way to go if you want interested, clever and creative young people to grow up as the next generation in order to solve today’s issues.

Prince Charles in the Cockpit of the Truro School Aeroplane

The Truro School Identity

Our school motto, Esse Quam Videri (to be, rather than to seem to be), captures the essence of our identity and is defined by the 5 C's below. Underpinned by strong Christian principles, we are a caring and inclusive community which values, nurtures and develops each individual.

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