#ReduceTheStupid Part 4: Banana!


So it’s Thanksgiving. What do I do? I get up early and write provocative stuff. Because science reduces the stupid.

This is the fourth in a series of pieces that I’ve cast onto the waters to see what kind of traction they get. None has yet equaled the Blood post (especially if you include the shares that SciBabe got by misappropriating it), but we’ll see how this one goes.


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.


Kids and the Sciences – Sometimes You Take Them to the Zoo

This is a regular blog post. Looking for show notes or show audio? Please check out the other posts.

Took the kids to the zoo today. Before you cock your head and say “hey, what does this have to do with aviation,” understand that it’s all about getting the kids fired up about science. Any kind of science. Hey, I prefer aerodynamics, but it remains that the scientific method and process applies universally. You need to expose the kids to as many different manifestations of it as you can.

So we headed to the Detroit Zoo. Cole and Ella, of course. And my sister and Scott and their son, Alex (born a year to the day after Cole).

The Detroit Zoo is a wonder. Maybe it was just the weather (60s and sunny), but the whole place seemed cool and clean and really fun to be around. I wish they had WiFi there. I could really see taking the laptop and a couple of cigars and finding a big 1930s-style stone park bench and camping out there all afternoon.

By far the coolest was the polar bear exhibit in the Arctic Circle of Life installation. I really love the underwater tunnel. Where else can you see polar bears suspended in the water directly above you?

Or let the kids seals and other fauna up close and personal?

It’s a really cool experience. Yeah, we’re going back to the airport soon enough. And to the Detroit Science Center and the Cranbrook Institute of Science. Get the kids out to meet the natural world! It’ll fire their imaginations and help to immunize them from a lot of the crap pseudo-science and outright lies to which the average American is so susceptible. Accept no substitute for up-close and personal experiences folks!

And besides. They have to fly to a lot of the places where these critters live, right?