Aviation Puts the Awesome in Sixth Grade Science


Sixth grade was rough for me.  I was 5’4” and clumsy, I read a lot of Heinlein, and I was much more comfortable around adults than my age peers.  I remember spending a lot of time wishing that there was some way that I could really impress the other kids with the deep thoughts that I was thinking.  But, alas, I never managed to do that.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago.  My son is now in sixth grade.  Thankfully, he’s much better adjusted than I was and at least as smart.  But he also longs for ways to demonstrate to his peers the awesomeness of the thoughts he thinks.  He arrived home one day and announced that he was to be “scientist of the week” in his science class.  He was supposed to do a science experiment and report on it in class.  He and I thought for awhile and hatched a plan.

On that Tuesday, the skies were clear and visibility was unlimited.  I met him at the doors of his school as classes let out in the afternoon.  I wore my flight suit.  (Because, of course, it’s always good for your classmates to hear that your dad met you at the door wearing a flight suit.)  We drove to the airport, preflighted a TG-7A motorglider, loaded our scientific instruments and implements of destruction into the aircraft, and launched for a piece of airspace out between Detroit City Airport (KDET) and Selfridge ANGB (KMTC).

FOD Experiment Posing

The idea was to take two balloons to 10,000 ft. MSL.  One out in the unpressurized cockpit and one sealed in a mason jar as a control.  We’d observe the experimental balloon every 1,000 feet or so and then measure it 10,000 feet.  We could also visually compare it to the control balloon in the jar.

I’m working on my CFI in gliders and,  if I have someone else in the aircraft (other than when I’m flying formation), I take the instructor seat on the left and the other person takes the primary pilot seat on the right.  (Air Force doctrine calls for the stick to be in the right hand and the power in the left and, because there’s only one throttle and it’s in the center, the PIC sits on the right side in the TG-7A.)  This means that I can let my son do most of the flying from right after takeoff until just before landing.  I get practice flying from the left seat while also honing my instructor skills while he flies.

I gave him the controls just after rotation and we flew north of the field and began to climb.  He circled up and I held up the balloon(s) for the camera, along with note cards with the altitudes on them.  At 10,000 MSL, I did the measurement, and then we pulled the throttle and circled back down and landed.

FOD Experiment Measurements

The experimental balloon didn’t grow as much as we thought it would.  We actually worried about that.  There was no apparent difference between the experimental and control balloons if you just eyeballed them.  But, when we measured, we found that the circumference did expand from 25.5 cm to 29 cm.  Assuming that the balloon is spherical (close enough), that’s a 41% growth in volume.  After (not before!) doing the calculations, we compared our results to the actual difference in atmospheric pressure for a standard atmosphere and found that the balloon’s expansion was within 2% of the 43% drop in atmospheric pressure in a standard atmosphere.


We did a PowerPoint presentation summarizing the experiment and he delivered it for the class on Friday.  It went over extremely well.  The teacher even called in the other science teacher to watch once the first slide with an aircraft on it popped up and made it apparent that the presentation was going to be special.

Lessons learned (among many others):

(a) It’s okay to have preconceptions about what will happen, but be objective about your data-taking and accept the data.  The best scientists know that it would be even cooler if the experiment had yielded results different from what you expected.  Isaac Asimov put it well:  “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny . . .’”

(b)  Aviation captures imaginations.  The presentation made a huge impression in the class.  It held the class’s attention and even drew in the other teacher.  Every kid in the room understood the results.

(c)  You can become a legend at your school if you present photographic evidence that, at the age of 11, you flew a TG-7A nearly two miles high and back.

FOD and I will surely come up with additional excuses to incorporate aviation into his homework.  And, in the meantime, we’re spending lots of time flying for flying’s sake.  It’s nice having 100 lbs of willing student in the right seat so that I can sit left seat and practice my instructor thing for my CFI certificate.


FOD Revisited

One of the best things about AirVenture or any annual event is the way that it helps mark the passage of time. Cole got his callsign, “FOD,” last year. And I shot a picture of him standing in front of the sign at the gas station in Russell, Illinois, purposely obscuring an “O” in “FOOD.” It’s the lower half of the composite above.

We hit Russell again this year to walk around the Russell Military Museum and, naturally, we took another photo to mark the time. It’s the top one.

I’m still ingesting media from AirVenture and will likely have some of that content up soon. But, in the meantime, I’m wrapped up in a reverie about the boy and how much he’s growing. Cool, eh?

Cessna Citation Mustang – Video Episode

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. If you want to listen online, please use the direct link below. http://media.libsyn.com/media/airspeed/AirspeedMustangVideo.m4v.

Remember when I said that I spent the summer building up great content and spent the off-season here in the northern US editing it all and making it compelling? Well, here’s some of that content.

You’ll recall the audio episode covering the demo flight in the Cessna Citation Mustang? Here’s the video from the flight. I had the camera up front for the takeoff, then David Allen ably took over the HD camera duties while Rod Rakic took the Flip video, Jo Hunter shot stills, and Cole (“FOD”) provided color commentary.

Be sure to check out the audio episode, Flying the Cessna Citation Mustang, for a complete account of the flight, including 30-odd cockpit audio outtakes!

Prepping for CAP Instrument Form 5 – Flying Sim

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for show notes or links to show ausio, please check the other posts.

The CAP Form 5 instrument check is tomorrow. So I headed in the DCT Aviation to fly some sim and do more preparation. As many of you know, I took the Form 5 ride in August in a C-172P. I opted not to go for the full IFR ride because I was unfamiliar with the panel and didn’t want to waste the check airman’s time. As it was, I flew a lot of the VFR checkride on the gages and I think I would have had a 60-40 chance of passing the instrument version of the Form 5, but that’s not how I roll. I don’t like walking in less than fully prepared.

Cole, my FO, went with me. As is wise before a grueling sim session, we hit grabbed breakfast.

I flew a lot of sim prior to my instrument rating checkride in 2007 and it helped a lot. Not least because the airplane is a heck of a lot easier to fly than the sim. It was so nice to get back in the airplane after flying hours and hours of sim.

Anyway, I shot the ILS 23L at KYIP twice, the VOR 24 at KARB twice, and then the VOR A KYIP with a circle to land on 32. Things really improved after the first approach and I seem to have dialed it in pretty well. Some of it was getting the throttle settings for various phases right. It turns out that the sim is pretty accurate in terms of performance. 2100 RPM and 10 degrees of flaps gets you 90 knots maneuvering and about 1700 RPM gets you a nice ride down the glideslope at 90 knots over the ground in most wind conditions.

Here’s the inbound leg of the parallel entry for the hold at SVM prior to shooting the VOR 24 at ARB. The simulator doesn’t lie. There are parts of my flying that I like and parts that I don’t. The turn here was nice. The outbound leg was offset very uniformly, which tells me that I just accepted the offset all the way out without correcting. Not the worst thing in the world, but I should be better on that. Altitude is very sawtooth-looking, but I’m not going to complain about that. I’ve never met a sim that was any good whatsoever in pitch. Pitch works so much better in the actual airplane.

Here’s how Cole spent much of the sim session. When I flew sim at DCT in 2007, Cole came along and sat at a desk and watched DVDs on a DVD player that I brought in. DCT has taken this idea to heard and there’s a DVD player in the sim room. You can bring your kid along, hook him or her up with headphones, and let him or her watch DVDs while you fly. Cole’s watching Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag. For the 20th time. Not kidding. And he loves it. Love my boy, I do!

If you’re near Oakland County International Airport (KPTK) and you want a really good and friendly sim environment to polish up for a checkride or anything else, check out DCT Aviation.

DCT Aviation
6226 N.Service Drive
Waterford, Michigan 48327
Monday-Friday – 8am-8pm
Weekends – 8am-5pm

Airspeed Aircrew Visit Washington DC

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for show notes or links to show audio, please see the other entries.

Mary took the kids to DC this past weekend. She, Cole, and Ella are big Obama fans. I maintain neutrality for purposes of the show in order to keep it all about aviation. But it’s very cool to see Cole, especially, so excited about government and the leadership of the country. Whatever your persuasion, there’s a definite feeling of Camelot in the nation’s capital and there’s something to be said for giving kids an optimistic experience of this kind early in life.

Mary got this shot of Cole posing outside of our favorite aviation regulatory agency.

The spent some time over by the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in the course of the day. Cole recognized the Air Force seal on this monument and wanted a picture with it. No doubt where the boy’s loyalties lie, that’s for sure!

And we close with this picture. We could all go on and on with scripts of what’s going on in Cole’s head and whether he understands what he’s seeing. Do any of us who weren’t there understand it? Enough said.