A full-size stainless steel airplane is taking shape inside a community room at a church in Clarendon Hills.
The wings of Zenith CH801 have been assembled on the carpeted floor of the River of Life Community Church while volunteers plan in the weeks ahead to install the fuselage to connect the cabin and the tail.
All that's missing is an engine for the plane that church members want to ship to Mozambique where it will be reassembled and used for mission work.
"It can take off at a distance of 390 feet. It's ideal for remote areas," said Jeff Tideman of Villa Park, who is a pilot and flight instructor.
Tideman is leading the effort to build the airplane that will have four seats and be able to carry up to 1,000 pounds of medicine, food, water, clothing, seeds and other items.
The idea to build the airplane came after the Rev. Bucky Kerr and other church members, visited Mozambique and saw firsthand how hard it is to travel there.
"The roads are just horrible," Kerr said. "It took us from 4 a.m. to 10 o'clock at night to reach the mission."
The volunteers want to use the plane to deliver the word of God and items that they say will save lives.
"People in Mozambique are dying from preventable diseases," added Tideman's wife, Debbie. "They have churches in the middle of nowhere. But they don't have pastors."
The non-denominational, evangelical church already works with a missionary in Mozambique who will fly the airplane to churches in hard-to-reach rural areas. She will bring in such items as Moringa seeds that can be planted and grow into drought-resistant trees. They will provide a long-lasting source of nutrition through its leaves that are edible, Debbie Tideman said.
The missionary, Claudia Bernhardt, visited the church in Clarendon Hills in 2012 where she received flying lessons under Tideman's tutelage and earned her pilot's license.
Contacted by email, Bernhardt called the efforts of the volunteers to build the airplane "amazing."
"The terrain is very challenging," she wrote. "I will be able to reach more people with a plane because there are places you cannot get to by road."
With the airplane, which is being constructed from a kit, Kerr agreed it will be possible to have a far greater impact than they can now.
"You could cover several mission points in a week," he said.
About a dozen regular volunteers gather on Saturdays at the church to help build the airplane. No experience is required, Tideman said.
As difficult as the task of building an airplane may sound, Tideman said they've chosen one that's relatively easy to put together.
"This is a kit you buy," he said. "It comes with all the holes drilled. It's pretty well-proven airplane. The construction methods are standard."
One of the volunteers, Lori Rosenwinkel of Wheaton, said volunteers are putting in rivets and helping in other ways.
"If you're not here putting rivets in you are praying, thinking about it," she said.
To signify their faith, the volunteers have written a portion of a psalm inside one of the wings. It reads, in part, "Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles."
The church raised donations and purchased the airplane kit from a man in Tennessee who sold it to them for $4,000, about half the price he was seeking after he learned how the church plans to use it.
The volunteers now are trying to raise the money for a crucial component – an engine. Tideman said they need about $35,000.
He and other church members said they have faith that their prayers for an engine will be answered. Tideman he is excited about the potential good work that having a plane will mean.
While other flying enthusiasts sometimes are known to take a flight just to end up in an airport where they eat what turns out to be a costly lunch because of the expense it took them to fly there, Tideman said he has greater plans for his passion.
"What I like about flying is what you can do with it," he said. "I love the idea that there's a mission you can do with it – a plane that doesn't get you a $100 hamburger."
Anyone interested in volunteering or making a donation can visit the website helpbuildanairplane.com.