Chicago School Kids Learn the Language of Aviation

By Karen McArdle

Can you hear it? The students are so very fluent and so very young. The way some of them speak, you would think that aviation was their native tongue. There are many chicagkids1.gifways to teach the language of aviation. A few books, some hand-outs, a poster or two, movies. Or better yet, the personal touch – a teacher who is fluent in aviation, a teacher who loves the language, the culture, the challenges and especially the excitement.

The teachers of Chicago Youth in Aviation Project (CYAP) teach the language of aviation to nearly 10,000 Chicago Public School children. Classes range from kindergarten to high school seniors. The curriculum includes “All Things That Fly” (as opposed to what falls or floats through the air); Navigation; Weather; Scientific Method; Solar System and Space Travel; History; Rocket Building and Launching; and Careers.

“All Things That Fly” includes three categories, Nature, Imagined, and Mechanical. Just ask the kids what they have seen in the sky, movies, cartoons, books – and then let the fun begin! We talk about airfoils and lift and that jumping off the front porch is jumping/falling but not flying.

The next lesson examines the parts of the airplanes and the names of each, which includes the original language, like aileron meaning “little wing” in French. The moving parts are colored red, orange or yellow and the fixed parts are colored blue, green or purple.

In October navigation is covered. Pilotage – landmarks only; Dead Reckoning – allowing for wind; GPS/Radio Navigation. Navigation includes improving map reading skills, local navigation (can you describe how to get to your house with only landmarks?), the longitude and latitude on earth for the earthlings, and this year Mars too, for the Martians of course. Fourth graders can tell you what time it is in London and Los Angeles and why.

Old charts and flight magazines from Corporate Flight Departments or flight schools make great teaching aids. K-2 students paste clouds (cotton balls) on construction paper and color a set of instrument approach charts. We discuss how pilots land at airports by tuning the airplane’s radio to a specific station when it is raining, or clouds or visibility are low. For upper grades, they provide the state or country, continent (use international charts) and any other information. They now have a real pilot chart – to keep.

After navigation, the four forces of flight are discussed, and then an airplane is cut out. The 757 NASA paper airplane is excellent, but any paper airplane will do the trick. Use vellum _ card stock is too thick sometimes _ when parts have to be folded. Next an airplane is created from flat toothpicks, facial tissue, Elmer’s glue and wax paper (to protect the desks plus it allows the glue to dry but not stick). It looks like a scale model of the Wright Brothers Flyer and yes, it flies! It is a lesson in paying attention to the directions. (What is a pilot’s most important job? Answer: to learn. How do pilots learn? Answer: by paying attention. This maxim is recited many times throughout the year).

 Audrey Morgan-Coleman spent the summer as an intern for Southwest Airlines, working in Operations doing weight and balance.chicagkids2.gif

In addition to in-school classes, students are enrolled in the Civil Air Patrol Cadet After School Program. The CAP students enjoy all the privileges of cadets, including orientation flights once a month. Sixth through twelth graders fly once a month in general aviation planes. Sometimes the Cadets are invited to fly on Air National Guard Flights _ did I really get up at 4:30 a.m. to arrive on time at ORD with my Cadets? We flew on a refueling tanker _ pretty cool. It’s the first time I saw the touch down on Runway 22 from the tail section.

We enhance our classes not only with hands-on materials and building airplanes but also by making history come alive through guest speakers. We invite WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots), Tuskegee Airmen, pilots _ corporate, military and airline – air traffic controllers, FBO managers and so forth. We also view films about these important groups.

With the new year, entries will be sent in for the International Art Contest. The Annual Black Aviation Essay Contest in February is followed by the Women in Aviation Essay Contest in March. Is it worth it to enter? The students think so _ three left O’Hare International Terminal last year with round trip tickets from Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and United Airlines for first place in their age category. Flight lessons and $100 savings bonds provided by the Air Force Association wrapped up the second and third prizes. The essays were also published in the local papers.

In spring, weather, the solar system, and space travel are discussed. Rockets are launched from the nearby parks or school playgrounds. Many of the students build rockets. For the younger students and to get in the mood, mini rockets can be built out of notebook paper and launched with a straw. It is important for the teacher to carry the rocket engines (the straws) and grant permission for lift off!

When students were surveyed about what they found most surprising about the aviation class they said, “I didn’t know we would be able to fly;” “It really surprised me when I saw so many airplane parts;” “When I built my airplane and it actually flew;” “When our teacher told us she was a real pilot. I thought she was just a teacher.”

The most common reply was: “I didn’t know it would be so fun.”

The last section focuses on careers. Did you know there are over 2,000 careers in aviation? It is an A to Z profession. A student can be an accountant to a medical doctor to a zoologist and work at the airport.

During the summer, students continue to speak the language of avation. Through the Mayor’s Office of Work Development, the Chicago Public School and CYAP, they are sent to O’Hare, Midway and Meigs. Some work in customer service with Southwest and American Airlines, others work the ramp with Atlantic Aviation, some are in the control towers, some help build a kit plane at Chicago Vocational High School, and some receive flight training in powered and glider airplanes.

Steve Applebaum is the Executive Director and founder of Chicago Youth in Aviation Project. Each staff instructor teaches three 40-50 minute classes per school and two schools per day. CYAP Cadet meetings after school as well as early morning Cadet meetings for high schools are provided to avoid the conflict with sports and other club activities.

It began five years ago with just 10 schools. CYAP now teaches in almost 50 schools. K

Dr. Karen McArdle is the Assistant Director of  Chicago Youth in Aviation and a staff instructor. She is a consultant for Fenger High School and its NASA Space  Lab and teaches almost 800 students weekly K-8.

She holds an ATP ASMEL CFIAI with over 3,000 hours  in over 50 different airplanes.

Original Publication January/February 2000 • Woman Pilot Magazine

About the Author

Chicago, Illinois

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