From Rivet to Airplane

How a teenager built her own Bush Cat and landed it on the purple dot.

Rachel St. Louis, age 20 and Jet, age 15 hours of flight time, in front of the Brown Arch at Airventure 2023.

Rachel St. Louis grew up in the little town of Machias, Maine with loving parents Michael and Rose. Michael, a self taught mechanical and electrical engineer, also flew the family’s Cessna Skyhawk, often with Rachel in the right seat. From her parents, Rachel received the love of all that is aviation and the entrepreneurial spirit to make it happen. It all started when Rachel, then age 8, amazed her family when she repaired her mother’s broken earring. Displaying her fix-it and artistic penchant as such an early age, she was soon designing and crafting jewelry and, with the help of her parents, selling items as local fairs.
When eight year old Rachel told her parents that she wanted to go to Disney World, then encouraged her to save for the ticket, which she did with the profits from her jewelry sales.

Rachel’s mobile showroom at the AirVenture Fly-Mart.
Rachel and her mom, Rose.

Life changing events occurred at AirVenture 2014, when Rachel, then age 12, attended with her family and visited the Zenith “One Week Wonder” exhibit (a Zenith kit aircraft built entirely by volunteers and AirVenture visitors in one week). She pulled a rivet, signed her name on the sheet metal and had an epiphany. Rachel already had the love of flight, but she was now convinced that the best way to achieve that for herself was to build her own plane and fly it.

Rachel’s parents did not take her decision lightly or underestimate her drive. All they said was that building an airplane is expensive, so you will need to save up to pay for it. Rachel thought that she already had the jewelry business and she would simply ramp it up to make enough money for a kit. She set about looking for the perfect airplane and saw a zebra striped Bush Cat on floats in AirVenture’s Ultralight area. It was love at first sight. While other vendors politely and figuratively patted her on the head and wished her well in the future, the folks at Bush Cat treated her seriously, helping her formulate a plan to buy the kit in sections as she could afford them.

Rachel implemented her plan with determination. She obtained a trailer, boosted her product output and started selling her aviation themed jewelry (as well as t-shirts and other gifts) at AirVenture every year. She also purchased partial kits as she could pay for them. The first kit was the engine mount with the forward part of the cockpit. Then came the fuselage, the tail, the wings and last, the expensive engine and avionics. Word spread about this unusual and inspiring teenager building her own plane, and some donations, both cash and airplane parts, came in. It took Rachel 6-1/2 years to build the Bush Cat on the pay as you go plan.

When Rachel graduated from Washington Academy in Maine (on the honor roll, of course), she enrolled in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida where she majored in Air Traffic Control, with minors in Air Traffic Transportation, Applied Meteorology and Psychology. Rachel moved her project down to Florida with her and then to Wonder Lake, Illinois (10C), where she completed construction with guidance from the Bush Cat U.S. Distributors, Jeremy and Daniela Knoll.

Rachel with her aviation-themed apparel.

Rachel has been a student pilot for quite some time, but she purposely put off her Private Pilot check ride until she could complete it in the aircraft that she built with her own two hands. After her Airworthiness Certificate was issued, the first flight was completed on July 11, 2023 by Jeremy Knoll. The second flight was conducted by Rachel and Jeremy together. Rachel then soloed in her new creation. Together with Jeremy, Rachel quickly flew off the five hours required by ELSA rules (that’s right, five hours, not 40). She now has close to 15 hours on her new craft, the last ones flying her from Wonder Lake to OSH, where she landed on runway 36, right on the purple dot. Rachel describes her landing at AirVenture as both exhilarating and emotional. The end of a long journey, and the beginning of a new one.

Jet’s pretty in pink panel, with a Kanarese EFIS and TQ com and transponder.

For the record, Rachel’s Bush Cat, N521BC, is a she. Her name is Jet. Rachel loves telling her friends, “do you want to come see my Jet?” After AirVenture, Rachel and her boyfriend, Johnathon Gardner (yes, they met at Embry Riddle) will fly jet back to Florida. Rachel, who is now at the seasoned age of 20, is set to graduate in January, 2024. She plans to fly Jet to all of the lower 48 states some day and may even take a shot at Alaska too. Sky’s the limit.

People who inspired and contributed to Jet’s construction are honored with aircraft silhouettes Rachel made for the covering.


  1. Awesome story… gotta love aviation. Please come to Old Bold Pilots on any Wednesday morning at Denny’s about 7:30 in Oceanside, California. No rules, just got to like flying.

  2. I was standing at the counter when she registered her plane. We sang her ” THE SONG”. We were all so happy for her. She was actually the 1st one to register her new build for the first time this year.

  3. Well Done Young Lady. Your talent is most admirable..the World is at your into the Heavens and Touch the Face of God…you will find many others Dad was a WWll P-51 Piolot..and he is there with many. The clouds are so Special to me. Good Luck..enjoy your Life Long trips…Fly with the


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