Giving the Gift of Aviation to the Next Generation

Wicks Forum 10-9-10, Highland, IL
EAA 158 West Bend, WI Air Camp
Presented by Paul Lupton PhD., CFII, Air Camp founder and retired director.

Years ago a comedy routine had a sketch titled “If Socrates had a Piper Cub”. Complete with low flying aerial antics, it was a hilarious impression of how the introduction of aviation to the ancient world would have had startling and humorous consequences. Truth be told, the invention of human powered flight by Orville and Wilbur in 1903 was a bold and successful accomplishment that was beyond the comprehension of generations of brilliant thinkers that lacked the materials and technology that had become available by the turn of the century. Today, aviation continues to advance in ways that were almost inconceivable to some of us whose introduction to aviation was a mere 50 years ago!

My introduction to aviation was a collection of crude balsa flying models, occasional Sunday afternoon trips to the airport, hanging on the fence to watch Stinsons, Taylorcrafts, or Cubs take-off and land. Throw in the fascination of movies that glorified the adventures of military pilots and you have the interest seed bed shared by thousands of aging pilots.

What a change to today’s aviation world. Shielded by security fences, complex and extensive regulations, and costs that are beyond the reach of many youth, aviation is no longer a low hanging fruit. No wonder that youth are bonded to hand held electronic toys that give stimulation to the hands but hardly to the mind. At their core, youth have always been inspired by adults who take an interest in them and share their passions. Take a few moments now and discover how you can share your enthusiasm and bring new dimension to some young persons who some day may experience the satisfaction that has brought meaning to your life.

Step 1 Self Assessment. Think about yourself (pre-aviation experiences). We all enter the world with the classic “blank sheet”. What persons, events, opportunities, etc. brought you to the point where you now possess a fund of knowledge and skills that has earned you the privilege of owning, flying, or even just admiring the beauty and potential of airplanes? It probably involved some adult. Your knowledge and skills were not acquired by merely wishful thinking. It took effort and determination.Step 2 Look Around. The EAA has been exemplary in promoting programs to introduce youth to aviation, namely the Young Eagles program and the summer Air Academy at Oshkosh. Local chapters are a fertile field of adult talent waiting to be organized into programs. Often just a word of invitation will trigger new ideas and enthusiasm to “get something going” in our area. Other non-profit groups such as Build-A-Plane seek to connect youth with hands-on experiences. Scout programs such as Aviation Explorers and even the Aviation Merit badge are opportunities to work with existing programs.

Step3 Get Involved. America is peppered with Little League programs, soccer clubs, youth hockey, D&B corps, environmental activists, fitness and health promoting fairs, walks, drives etc. Religious and political groups find the time and energy to promote their agendas. Why not give the gift and inspiration of your enthusiasm and knowledge of aviation??? Young boys and girls are hungry to learn about and discover the wonders and marvels of modern aviation. You hold the gold. Don’t hoard, it share it!

The Gold! Aviation is a mother lode of opportunities to delve into niches or broad areas of interest. Starting with the history of aviation itself, films, books, and even individuals who have personal tales of aviation memories are a rich source of inspiration chronicling the struggles and achievements of men and women. The Wright brothers were far more than bicycle tinkerers who got lucky. They were versed in math and science (of their era) and were self taught engineers utilizing principles of experimentation to unlock the secrets of aerodynamics. Kids love the Wright brother’s film we show in Air Camp. The evolution of aircraft from barely airworthy “crates” through WWI and WWII to supersonic jets to the space program is a story worthy of telling and retelling. The names of Wright, Lindberg, Mitchell, Piper, Cessna, Yeager, and Rutan will echo in the halls of aviation lore forever. Pulp fiction is oatmeal compared to real stories of men and woman who whose daring and brains left a legacy that touches us daily.

Scientific principles of Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Earth Science, and Meteorology, offer almost limitless opportunities for hands-on experiments or discussions. The properties of a toy gyroscope are useful in teaching the inner workings of the three basic aircraft instruments common in all modern aircraft: Turn Coordinator, Attitude Indicator, and Heading Indicator. (Modern electronic substitutes are gradually replacing mechanical gyros but the purpose and output remain constant.) The names Bernoulli and Newton may be unfamiliar to youth but principles of velocity and pressure, and forces acting on an aircraft are critical to the understanding of lift and flight. A vacuum cleaner or a simple wood cart are fascinating teaching tools that kids love to play with and make learning fun. The principle of buoyancy is crucial to the understanding of hot air and gas balloons, and meteorology. A simple device with a soda bottle and an eyedropper (described in many science texts as the Cartesian Diver experiment) can give clever demonstrations of the actual working of this principle. Drawing connections between this simple apparatus and the mechanism that allows submarines to easily dive and resurface or the ability of many fish to use their swim bladder for the same purpose will help youth appreciate the broad connections in the world of scientific principles.

The construction of the human inner ear, a staple in middle school science, is crucial to the body’s ability to establish balance or be fooled by illusions during instrument flight. Simple and fun games of standing on one foot with the eyes open or closed are convincing personal demonstrations of how our bodies react to certain flight conditions. A simple magnetic compass has become almost a foreign object to many youth today. A bag of cheap compasses in the hands of students can be a novel learning experience, teaching not only the behavior of the instrument but the larger picture of the earth itself as magnet.

The ancient and honorable skill of map reading has become almost a lost art with the convenience of GPS devices. Students can be surprisingly ignorant of basic interpretation of maps and will be amazed to learn how much information pilots need to know about navigation that can be learned from charts. Expired sectionals are often available for the asking from most FBOs. Use of the E6B is almost unnecessary but most examiners will expect pilot applicants to have at least rudimentary knowledge of how to use back-up equipment if the electronic marvels go south. Your knowledge, with a little dusting off, can be the occasion of a youth discovering how seemingly primitive devices allowed early pilots to make surprisingly accurate navigation calculations.

Aviation art is an often overlooked opportunity, but any visitor to a quality museum will be impressed by the photography, paintings, or dioramas depicting scenes ranging from the quite serenity of a grass field fly-in to the thundering power of a formation of military jets, to the determined face of an aerobatic pilot.

Youth with an artistic flair can be invited to develop those skills with aviation subjects. Your expired aviation magazines can be recycled to good use to stimulate a young mind.

Any person who has passed even a private pilot written test will testify to the requirement to understand mathematics as witnessed by the numerous questions requiring an understanding of charts, graphs, and formulas to calculate many things from weight and balance, to take-off and climb performance, to navigational computations. Opportunities abound to copy charts and graphs and teach students how to read and apply the information. Presto, young minds see real world applications for those skills they learned in school. You both win.

The evolution of aviation has been entwined with the evolution of electronics, radio, and computers. Many youth have a flight simulator program on their computers. Air Camp members receive a thorough indoctrination to flying R/C models courtesy of the local R/C club that brings computers loaded with R/C training software. Teaming up with their computer you can use your flight experience to create or re-enact scenarios that go beyond “gaming”.

Basic aircraft wiring can be explored either through white board discussion or, better yet, through hands on circuit trainers. (Air Camp members use a wiring diagram to hook-up and operate a small mock-up of an aircraft system with switches, circuit breakers, lights, and an operating landing gear). The technology behind GPS satellites and airborne navigational equipment opens the opportunity to explore the physics of orbital mechanics, to the precision of atomic clocks, and the “knobology” required to display and utilize the signals available. Many pilots have multiple interests including ham radio, and electronic design or repair. These skills can add a credible dimension to your guidance.

Meteorology is a topic that is constantly in our awareness either from the Weather Channel, local TV news, or just watching the sky. Terms like barometric pressure or dew point are loosely thrown around by forecasters. Pilots don’t just look at the weather; we are in it, sometimes at thousands of feet above the ground! The concepts of weather fronts can be cleverly simulated with as little equipment as a glass bread pan, water, salt, and some food coloring. The more complex concept of dew point can be discussed then demonstrated with merely an empty water bottle, some water and a match. (The cloud in a jar demo has been known to cause jaw dropping reactions in kids and adults.) Don’t be surprised if some young person later tells you that they took that experiment home to show their younger siblings.

Because air is essentially transparent it has puzzled thinkers for eons. Today we have a firm grasp of gas laws that predict measures of pressure, volume, temperature, humidity, etc. A garbage bag carefully fitted around a student WITH THE HEAD EXPOSED, in combination with a vacuum cleaner produces a shrink wrapped student! After the first brave soul agrees to be the subject most of the other students are eager to try it. The lesson learned is the amazing power of air pressure surrounding our bodies. Large suction cups used by glass installers are often available in hardware stores in the cheap tool aisle. Use of a pair of these with a tug-of war team is another fun and convincing way of demonstrating air pressure and actually calculating the approximate pressure! Again, learning is the name, fun is the game.

So, you’re a tool guy or gal. The sad reality is that the basement or garage workshops that gave many kids their introduction to hand tools and a life skill has gone the way of ’57 Chevy: a fond memory. Constructing an aircraft gives new meaning to the phrase “some assembly required”. Aluminum is a soft metal that can easily be worked with hand tools. Monet Aircraft has long been a supporter of Air Camp, providing aluminum scraps and patterns for their trainer kits. Shears, drills some easily made forming jigs and pop rivets under adult supervision can turn a Saturday afternoon into an aircraft factory that produces an authentic airplane wing component. Surprisingly the Band-Aid box is seldom needed, although safety is stressed. The bonus: a souvenir with bragging rights.

What about composites, you ask. Cutting edge stuff to be sure. Can kids work with it? Yes, with reservation. If you are unfamiliar it’s best to leave this to those who understand the potential for spills, sticky hands, harmful vapors, etc. In our EAA chapter a member with years of fiberglass experience came forward and volunteered to create a learning lab complete with hot wire cutting of a foam airfoil core! WOW! Under his supervision dozens of kids have safely created airfoil shapes and “glassed” them with the exact same procedures used by Burt Rutan. Even if you only have work samples to show, kids have little experience in this field and your efforts bear the fruit of opening up young minds to possibilities heretofore unfamiliar. Parents often provide feedback that kids who appear quiet during work sessions can’t stop talking about their experiences when they get home.

By now you have a good idea of the variety of projects that can be used individually or combined to create a learning experience for youth that will make you, your chapter, or aviation people shine in the eyes of kids and parents. The next section will detail a classroom lesson that can be used as bait to sell your program or as component of a program.

First a word about educational methodology. Professionals agree that an organized approach is usually a safer technique that relying on humor, charm or even high-tech gadgets to teach a lesson. Madeline Hunter (1916-94) was a well known educator who promoted a systematic method of instruction. I had the privilege of meeting her several times and was impressed by the simplicity and effectiveness of her method. For a more thorough treatment of her system consult one of many internet sites that provide guidance.

EAA 1158 Air Camp
EAA 1158 Air Camp

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s