A Flight Simulator Program

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					   A Flight
 Simulator Program
                                 Takes Off
                                                                     By Don McMahon

                                            everal years ago, I was invited to a meeting
                                            to hear a presentation from a group of re-
       Industry and a school                tired Boeing and McDonnell Douglas en-
                                            gineers. At the time, I was a technology
         district team up in a   t rainer for Mesa Schools’ Instructional Technology
                                 department with a particular enthusiasm for large-
          mutually beneficial    scale, districtwide projects.
                                     The retirees shared with us a video of a child-
             partnership that    size, fixed wing, full motion flight simulator that
     teaches students about      was used in a children’s museum in Seattle. I
                                 couldn’t believe what I was seeing—a miniature
        the wonders of flight.   airplane being operated by children! When the re-
                                 tirees indicated that they would like to build such a
                                 unit for our district, it was difficult to contain my
                                 enthusiasm. Their proposal and our district were a
                                 natural match. A part of our required fifth-grade
                                 science curriculum is the core unit “Flight and
                                 Space.” Much of the foundational curriculum was
                                                       already in place. With Boeing
                                                           agreeing to fund the project
                                                             and provide any critical
                                                               personnel to ensure its
                                                               success, the decision
                                                               was a “no-brainer,” and
                                                              we were on our way.

42   Science and Children
Teaching the Teachers                                                                   The classroom portion of the flight
Our first step was developing curricu-                                              center experience consists of four les-
lum for the Mesa Schools to accom-                                                  sons: Parts of the Airplane; The Instru-
modate the flight simulator. I teamed                                               ment Panel; Roll, Pitch, and Yaw; and
up with science department person-                                                  Using the Stick and Pedals.
nel to write a curriculum that would
culminate in a flight in the simulator.                                             • In Lesson 1, the teacher guides the
The Boeing retirees shared an existing                                                students as they identify the parts of
curriculum with us, which we modi-                                                    a paper cutout airplane model—
fied to specifically fit the needs of our After learning the basics of flight,        cockpit, aileron, control stick, eleva-
fifth-grade students. Using the Boeing students become familiar with the              tor, fuselage, pedals, and wing. The
curriculum, we determined the avia- instrument panel.                                 students then take a test on these
tion concepts (i.e., forces acting on an                                              parts—the first of four tests that must
airplane, navigation, correct aircraft terminology, and            be passed before a student may fly the simulator.
general aviation vocabulary) that needed to be part of a         • Lesson 2 teaches the students about the instrument
comprehensive fifth-grade aviation curriculum.                     panel, which includes the airspeed indicator, altim-
    We also set up teacher-training sessions to prepare            eter, artificial horizon, climb indicator, compass,
the classroom teacher for the trip to the flight center. In        start switch, tachometer, and throttle. The students
essence, the teachers had to be able to do everything              are then introduced to more flight vocabulary, in-
expected of the students—they would learn to fly. Just as          cluding the terms ceiling, navigate, knots, MPH,
students would do on their visit to the flight center, the         RPM, stall, taxi, and visibility. The teacher guides
teachers sat in a wooden ground trainer and learned the            the students as they learn about each instrument and
hand and foot coordination necessary to climb, dive,               its purpose. Hands-on activities include using com-
make turns, take off, and land an airplane. At the two-            passes and artificial horizon cards. Students apply
hour session, the teachers rotated through four centers            math skills as they convert knots to miles and kilome-
(hands-on Bernoulli principle activities, flight simulator         ters per hour, calculate altitude (in miles and kilome-
software, flight simulator, and helicopter trainer).               ters, feet and meters), and calculate how long it
    Other teacher training involved the teachers using a           would take an aircraft to climb at a certain rate.
paper cutout model to learn the aileron, rudder, and             • Lesson 3 deals with the forces acting on an air-
elevator configurations of an airplane performing                  plane in flight—lift, gravity, thrust, and drag.
simple aerial maneuvers. We also taught the teachers               The students learn how to use the airplane’s con-
how the instrument panel related to an airplane in                 trols to move through the air. They learn how the
flight. Upon returning to the classroom, the teacher was           control stick allows the plane to roll and pitch
better able to prepare the class for the visit. The field          while the rudder pedal make the airplane yaw.
trip to the flight center is an optional extension of our          Using paper models, the students configure
district’s flight and space curriculum.                            moveable parts to show the position of the
                                                                                       airplane’s control surfaces in
Flight School Basics                           Before boarding the flight simu-        various aerial maneuvers.
We did not want the simulator to be a lator, students practiced flight               • Lesson 4 teaches students how to
novelty “ride” but rather a significant part maneuvers in a wooden trainer.            coordinate hand and feet posi-
of a flight curriculum. We decided that                                                tions critical to flying an airplane.
before a student sat in the simulator he or                                            Listening to teacher commands,
she should know all the parts of an air-                                               the student positions his or her
plane and flight-related vocabulary—                                                   hands and feet to match the aerial
such as ailerons, rudder, elevator, artificial                                         maneuver presented by the
horizon, tachometer, climb indicator, con-                                             teacher. This mandatory final test
trol stick, rudder pedals, port and star-                                              occurs at the flight center in small
board, cockpit, compass, throttle, etc.—                                               wooden trainers. (Students take
and be familiar with the instrument panel.                                             the test as many times as they wish
    Students would learn the physical                                                  until they pass. This gives the ma-
factors that affect an airplane in flight,                                             terial a high level of importance).
such as lift, drag, thrust, and the effects                                             With these background lessons in
of gravity, and what it takes to keep an                                            place, students are ready to visit the
airplane in the air.                                                                flight center.

                                                                                                          October 2003 43
To the Flight Center                                                                  Next comes the center the stu-
Upon arriving at the flight center, the                                            dents have all been waiting for—the
students are given “ground school”                                                 simulator. The students who are
instruction. All flight center volun-                                              awaiting their flight complete activi-
teers are retired Boeing employees.                                                ties in a log book while waiting their
Parents of each student group can                                                  turn. In the log book, students an-
also participate. While students sit in                                            swer various questions about each of
wooden simulator trainers, the flight                                              the centers visited. At the flight
center instructors visually quiz the                                               simulator, students are asked to ob-
young pilots on the instrument panel                                               serve the color of the lights on the left
and control devices.                                                               and right side of the airplane. This
    The instructor then takes the pilots                                           teaches them the terms port and star-
on an imaginary flight around Mesa                                                 board. Students are also asked to
while carefully monitoring the young                                               identify the color rods that make the
pilots’ correct use of the control stick                                           rudder and elevator move.
and rudder pedals. A gentle rocking                                                   Finally, the students are asked to
motion is generated when using the                                                 write a paragraph about their experi-
flight control. This gives the students                                            ence at the flight center. The stu-

                                                                               PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR
a feel for flying that will soon be expe-                                          dents take the log books back to their
rienced in the simulator. The flight                                               individual classrooms where the
simulator can be somewhat disori-                                                  teacher evaluates the information
enting to students if they don’t know                                              entered by the students.
what to expect.
    After the completion of ground                                                 We’re Flying Now
school, the students receive a “pilot’s                                            When a student first climbs aboard
license,” which allows them to fly the                                             the simulator, there is a certain
simulator. It is a big moment that                                                 amount of anxiety as they place the
usually calls for a round of applause.                                             headphones on their head. The in-
Students then separate into five Flight school instructors guided the              strument panel is familiar since it is
groups and begin rotating through student pilots through a series of               the same one depicted in the student
four centers. A rotation signal is given simple aerial maneuvers.                  manual used in the classroom and the
by flight center personnel every 30                                                wooden trainer from ground school.
minutes once the rotations have begun. Each group             The student puts on a radio and headset. The flight
must have an adult with them to make sure the rotations       instructor, who is standing alongside the simulator, com-
are made in a timely matter.                                  municates to the pilot through the built-in microphone:
    The first 30-minute center provides students with six     “Ignition on, throttle up, pull back on the stick.”
activities that demonstrate the Bernoulli principle of            Once they turn the key, the engine sound starts up,
lift. At this center, the student explores the effect that    and all the classroom and ground-school training kicks
moving air has on an object. The second center gives the      in. As they pull back on the throttle, the engine sound
child a chance to sit at a computer with a joystick and fly   races to a higher pitch. The tachometer needle shows an
a Cessna aircraft around Mesa. We use the computer            increase in engine RPMs. The flight instructor instructs
program Microsoft Flight Simulator 98, which gives a          the student to pull back on the throttle until the engine
sense of what it would look like to fly in the real world.    is turning at 2500 RPMs.
Students also realize the relationship between speed              As the RPMs increase, the airspeed indicator jumps
and lift while working with the software. They learn that     to life and shows a gradual increase in speed. When the
the faster the airplane is travelling, the more lift it has   airspeed reaches 80 knots the student is instructed to
and it climbs (Bernoulli’s principle in action!). Con-        pull back on the control stick. This is the moment of
                           versely, to decrease altitude, the truth! The nose of the simulator rises into the air and an
                           airplane must reduce its speed.    unmistakable grin appears on the face of the 10-year-
                           They prove Bernoulli’s principle   old pilot as they realize that they are actually controlling
                           every time they take off and land  an aircraft. Although the pilot is only one meter off the
Keywords: Forces of Flight the airplane. A working instru-    floor, the imagination takes over and he or she is flying!
at www.scilinks.org        ment panel adds a sense of real-       The flight instructor guides the pilot through a series
Enter code: SC100302       ism to the flight.                 of maneuvers. The simulator pitches and rolls as the

44   Science and Children
pilot manipulates the control stick and pedals. The final
approach to the runway finds the pilot reducing RPMs            Connecting to the Standards
to decrease altitude. Rudder pedals help the student            This article relates to the following National Science
line up on the runway that’s located on the wall in front       Education Standards (NRC 1996):
of them. Using the artifical horizon, the student makes         Content Standards
sure the wings are level as they prepare to land. Touch-        Grades 5–8
down! The throttle is reduced so the pilot can taxi to the      Standard B: Physical Science
tarmac and prepare the aircraft for the next student.           • Motions and forces
   The fourth center is a helicopter trainer. This com-
ponent was added when Boeing discovered they had a              Standard F: Science in Personal and
nonfunctioning helicopter that was destined to be used          Social Perspectives
for parts. The retirees arranged to have the disabled           • Science and technology in society
helicopter dismantled and retrofitted to be used as a
functional trainer (without the engine), and the heli-         troduce the project into Arizona’s rural areas.
copter was reassembled on a 1.5m × 3m base. Boeing                The willingness of the Arizona’s high-tech community
provided volunteer assembly personnel for the task.            to volunteer and provide experiences for our children has
The helicopter center is manned by retirees who teach          truly made a difference across the state. For the first time,
the students the fundamentals of helicopter flight using       many students are able to see how education is the key to
the fully operational controls. We are currently devel-        a successful career in a high-tech field. As a result of these
oping helicopter activities that will become a part of the     industry partnerships, we are working with more moti-
classroom and flight center curriculum.                        vated students, many of whom want to pursue careers in
   Once all the centers have been visited, the entire          the high-tech fields represented by our partnership com-
class assembles for a debriefing to share feelings and         panies. This is mutually beneficial to both the schools and
review content. As the day comes to a close, the chil-         industry. As a result of the flight centers, we have excited
dren receive certificates that verify their participation in   students learning science in a hands-on, inquiry-based
the flight center experience. Afterwards, many of the          approach. Science now has a whole new significance in the
classes send letters thanking the two flight center in-        Mesa Schools—as well as in the state of Arizona.
structors for the great learning experience. Teachers             From small beginnings, this project has captured the
also compliment the flight center staff on their profes-       imagination and passion of so many people. It has become
sionalism and how this trip has motivated their kids to        a vehicle that affects the lives of thousands of students. n
become better students.
                                                               Don McMahon (demcmaho@mpsaz.org) is special
Growing Leaps and Bounds                                       projects coordinator in the Educational Technology
The flight center has become the highlight of the year         Department in the Mesa Unified School District in
for most of the fifth-grade classrooms in our area. In         Mesa, Arizona.
order to accommodate all the classes that wanted to
come, we had to set up a second flight center. With            Resources
funding from a high-tech grant from the state of Ari-          National Research Council (NRC). 1996. National Science
zona, we were able to open the second center in October          Education Standards. Washington, D.C.: National Acad-
1999. We are now able to accommodate more than 150               emy Press.
classes per year. Combined, the two flight centers
handle almost 4,000 fifth-grade students per year.             Internet
   At the end of the 2000–2001 school year, more than          Mesa Schools Flight Centers
10,000 students from Mesa and the surrounding areas               www.mpsaz.org/fltcntr/
had visited one of the flight centers. A third flight          Microsoft Flight Simulator 98
center, serving middle school students from across the            zone.msn.com/flightsim98
state, is currently in operation at the Arizona Science        Student and Teacher Classroom and Flight Center Materials
Center in Phoenix. A fourth flight center in a high               www.mpsaz.org/fltcntr/fcdocs.html
school in Scottsdale, Arizona, aims to prepare students
for entry into a post–high school aviation-related field.      NSTA Connection
A consortium of educators, state officials, and aviation       For more content information for students about how
industry engineers has formed to oversee the rollout of        airplanes fly, click on this article at www.nsta.org/
the program in various locations. At the current time, a       elementary school.
portable flight simulator is being planned that will in-

                                                                                                          October 2003 45