Friday, December 7, 2012

A Different Kind of Flight

Since my son and I are building our own planes, much time and thought go into figuring out how to build them correctly, or with style. If I am not actually out there smashing rivets, I am usually thinking of how I can do something better, or how I want certain parts to look. But lately I have been working with the kids from my school on a different kind of plane.

I am the coach of the Science Olympiad team at South Charlotte Middle School where I am also one of the 7th grade Pre-Algebra instructors. While many of the kids are entrenched in subject matters like Forestry, Crime-Busters,  and Mousetrap Vehicles, there is one group of boys who have been diligently working on trying to build and fly an elastic glider plane. It has been entertaining, to say the least, to watch them build their planes, and then expect wondrous things from it when they were finished. I only chuckled on the inside, as I know that aerodynamics is not an area where expertise can be taken lightly. The designs were not exactly.... well ..... airworthy. These gliders were better aptly called ... dive bombers.

But this was a learning opportunity for the boys, and a teaching moment for me. We talked about why their planes were not performing to their expectations and high standards. Finally, after much debate, the boys decided that there were just too many variables in their design that were incorrect, and their best option at this time would be to purchased a glider from the hobby shop.

The next day, their testing continued with their new glider plane. The boys removed the metal nose piece from the plane, and added clay to the front, to comply with the North Carolina Science Olympiad rules. When the plane was tossed into the air, the nose pitched up abruptly, the wing stalled, and it dove straight to the ground. I said to them, "Wow! That was unusual! What do you think just happened?" And their quick response was, "It crashed!"

"Why, yes, it did," I said with a chuckle. "But WHY did it crash?"

"It stopped flying and it crashed", was the response.

"Exactly!......Why did it stop flying?"

"Well.....It's quite simple, Mr. Brown. The plane flew up, stopped flying, then crashed!" was the final answer.

Hmmmmm, not exactly the answer I was looking for. After more probing for answers, the question I was asking of "why the plane stalled" was finally understood, and the stumped boys just looked at me with blank stares.

This was a perfect teaching moment, a chance for the boys to discover the characteristics of flight, the forces acting upon the plane, and how they might could make things work. We discussed the balance of the plane, and why the plane was pitching nose high. The boys were asked how they thought they could stop the nose from pitching up so high. I left the boys with this question and asked that they give it some thought for a while, and to come back to me with their ideas, once they had discussed some possible solutions between them.

After much discussion and thought, and some instruction on how weight and balance work, along with how to measure and determine the ARM and Moments of the plane, their understanding of why the plane performed a certain way under certain configurations was becoming increasingly more clear. A sudden "Aaaaaaahhhhhhh, we understand!!" And off they ran to get more clay for the nose of the plane.

After roughly 40 minutes of test flights along with adding and subtracting various amounts of clay to the nose of the glider, they finally tossed the plane up one last time. And with great excitement and smiles on their faces, they watched as their glider ever so lightly and effortlessly glided above the gym floor.

After the day was over and I was home working on my RV Nation website, it dawned on me that this was exactly the kind of thing that I wanted my business to accomplish....introducing aviation concepts to kids, tweaking their interests, and expanding their knowledge base so that they might be interested in learning more about aviation or aerospace in college, pursuing it as a career some day, or at least developing interest in becoming a recreational pilot one day. Seeing these kids tackle difficult aviation challenges with enthusiasm and resolve provides encouragement to me to continue the course of reaching more kids about aviation. This truly is an important part of the Grass Roots of Aviation.


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