Hellgate Elementary students get up-close lessons in aviation

The fifth-grade class at Hellgate Elementary, anticipating the end of school, doesn't need field trips to keep its interest up. They already are flying high with a two-week lesson on aviation.

The 140 or so pupils lined up (twice) along the sidewalk fence to watch St. Patrick Hospital's emergency helicopter crew land in their playground Friday. After landing, the flight nurse, paramedic and pilot spoke to the students about their jobs.

Two visits were required because the crew received an emergency call to Plains just as the helicopter was making its approach to land at Hellgate Elementary in the morning. It was back in the early afternoon, though, stirring up dust from the baseball field as it landed and took off.

Christy Selway thought the helicopter's visit was cool.

"All the gear they have in it and how much fuel they use up," Selway said when asked what was so cool. "I just think it was really cool for them to come and use a whole bunch of gas to come here."

The pupils learned the helicopter uses one gallon a minute when in the air. They also learned, among other things, that it takes four minutes from the time an emergency beeper goes off until the helicopter is in the air to respond to a call and that in the most frequent accidents, children aren't wearing seat belts or helmets.

"It was great," added David Naturale. "It was very educational and interesting."

"If I can't become a software technician, I will probably become a pilot," he added.

In the new program, the students learn not only how emergency helicopters work but also how to build hot-air balloons, rockets and kites. And in the process, they're learning a new alphabet, aviation terms, geometry and physics - actually applying math and science skills and having fun with it.

"It's the high point of the year. They seem to be really enjoying it," said teacher David Bixby.

Bixby and fellow teacher Karen Peterson attended a Montana Aviation Conference in Kalispell. They came back and shared their idea for the session with the other fifth-grade teachers, who seem to like the project.

The students like the session, too, and are looking forward to the end when the top teams will get a ride in an airplane.

"We get points for how good we behave," explained Jamie Gilligan. With top points, he said, "we get to ride in an airplane at the end of the unit."

As part of the project, the students are divided into teams with a pilot, a co-pilot, a navigator, a flight engineer and a payload master, explained student Devon Kinzie. "We each act out our job," he said. "A simulator lets us experience our job. We take turns in our group."

Bixby is teaching the students to make tetrahedral kites of equilateral triangles. From Cara Baker, they are learning how to make hot air balloons and, from Colleen Cooper, they are learning about rockets.

Four strips of paper are glued together to make the hot-air balloon. Each of the five classes is making seven or eight kites that will be launched later in the project.

The balloons, said student Darryl Randall, have to be lighter than air. If they're too heavy, he explained, they will fall.

With the rockets, the students are learning "kind of how lift works," explained student Courtney Wade. "Also we're learning how to make a rocket go high by how much pressure you put in it."

The pressure comes from pumping air into a bottle already full of water. "All the pressure inside the bottle makes the bottle fly up," Wade said.

They'll try different types of fuel before the final test of whether an egg with a parachute will land safely. That is, simply put, a test of Newton's laws that for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction.

The egg test, Cooper said, was added for fun. "Only three eggs (out of 50) have broken on my floor this week," she said.

In Kathy Meyers' class, the students are learning how to make an airplane and the vocabulary that goes along with it like struts and drag and lift and thrust. They learned about the different parts of an airplane, its leading edge, its trailing edge and its fuselage. They also learned how to place a coin on the plane to balance it.

Amongst all this knowledge, the students are learning the history of both America and flying through knowledge of the Wright brothers and their flying adventures. They are learning about military time and international codes.

They also have increased their skills in measuring. Using a math lesson, the pupils have used twine to measure the length of aircraft, Meyers said.

"The kids have loved it. It's exciting and there's a lot of learning," Meyers said.

Reporter Donna Syvertson can be reached at 523-5361 or at dsyvertson@missoulian.com

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