Project Police Raid Elementary School?

Bob Waldmiller

Originally published April 1993

Remember last month, when Norm mysteriously disappeared leaving yours truly to finish writing the newsletter? Well wouldn't you know, Norm did it to me again! He managed to weasel his way into a TDY and out of a speaking engagement with a fifth-grade class at the Sunnydale Elementary School. Their teacher, Joyce Starling, saw us at the Mall Show in February and worked up a two week study program for her students--centered around airplanes of course. They found a book on how to make unique paper airplanes and built themselves a variety of aircraft types from helicopters to ring-wings to UTMFOs (Unidentifyable To Me Flying Objects). They managed to find a dozen or more pictures of experimental aircraft that NASA flew in years past and some which NASA currently flies. Their projects and presentations, of course, served as the tools to help them learn what makes airplanes fly.

The highlight of their class was supposed to be a presentation by the almost almighty F-16 Test Pilot, Norm. What they got instead was beyond their wildest expectations, the almighty Flight Test Engineer, Bob! Oh yeah, just in case I forgot to mention it, I never give up an opportunity to miss a few hours of work to talk about airplanes--betcha already knew that though! Boy am I glad Norm had the opportunity to go TDY--really!

I squeezed into my flight suit that day (I wish they'd find a better place to put your wallet in these things) and amazed everybody at work who thought that my BDUs were the only uniform I owned. In any case, I was now in the proper attire to talk about airplanes--looks more natural when you have to talk with your hands ya know. I wrote a few quick briefing cards the night before just to jog my memory and I checked to make sure I hadn't forgotten to bring them with me. They were in my pocket and I was ready to do battle with the wits of any ten-year-old.

I talked for a while about airplanes and what it's like to fly them. I answered a number of questions on the same subject. Naturally, I made my pitch about Young Eagles so look out, there's a bunch more ready for their first ride. But before they were willing to let me out the door, we had to answer the question: What makes airplanes fly--how come some of their paper airplanes fly and some don't? Fortunately, the kids had already met Mr. Bernoulli through their teacher. I reiterated Bernoulli's principles for them and how the wing produces lift but there is another mechanism needed to make airplanes fly--stability.

Try explaining aircraft stability to thirty-five fifth-graders. We started by drawing the wing and tail lift vectors on a scale to balance them out but a look into the eyes of my somewhat puzzled audience meant trying Plan-B. Unfortunately, I hadn't thought of Plan-B yet. Then in a flash of blinding light, I found myself with a brilliant idea certain to put me in the running for the General Electric "I've got an idea" 100 watt lightbulb award.

"Stability is like balancing on your bicycle," I said, "If you pedal real hard but you can't keep your balance, you fall off and can't go anywhere--right? Well, even if an airplane produces lots of lift, unless it's stable or balanced it won't go anywhere either!"

Everyone nodded in agreement. I knew I'd managed to summarize the idea of aircraft stability in those three short sentences in a way that 10 year-olds could understand. Damn, I'm good! Then a girl raised her hand and spoke up, "What if you have training wheels?"

In a minor brown-out, my 100 watt idea dimmed temporarily to 25 watts but immediately surged back to it's full potential. "Artificial stability," I answered back!

"Hmmm, oh," she replied!

I got lucky and there weren't any more questions so I made my dash for the door.

Give it a try someday, educate a youngster about airplanes and flying. The positive influence that we can have on them will open their imaginations and let them explore their potentials. There was certainly no shortage of attention span that day which leads me to believe that given the opportunity, many of these youngsters might just decide to pursue the life-long love of aviation.

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Revised -- 22 February 1997