Lots of kids wish they could build an airplane and fly away, but Dutch teenager Jesse van Kuijk has become one of the rare few to make it happen with his pedal-powered plane made out of balsa wood, polyurethane, and rip-resistant foil. The most impressive part? Van Kuijk built his plane without ever having flown in one before!

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The Dutchman’s project began in 2006, when van Kuijk started researching pedal-powered planes, including the Gossamer Condor (the first pedal-powered plane to fly a figure-8) and the Gossamer Albatross (the first pedal-powered flight over the English channel).

Over the next few years, the inventor gathered materials and eventually built a plane with 85 foot-wide wings and a bicycle chain attached to a propeller for acceleration. Van Kuijk’s maiden flight last Sunday didn’t go very far–the plane flew 15 feet in the air for a distance of about 45 feet–but eventually he hopes to make an extended journey. That’s not out of the realm of possibility, as van Kuijk is only 19 years old and he built his first plane without constructing a model.

As we mentioned previously, Jesse van Kuijk is far from the first aeronautical buff to build a pedal-powered plane. The Royal Aeronautical Society funds four cash prizes for innovative models, with teams from institutions like Virginia Tech and Pennsylvania State University gunning for first place. But van Kuijk could very well be among the first of an upstart generation of engineers who find new ways to deal with growing aircraft fuel shortages.

Via Spiegel Online