Aviation education: From doodles to dollars
Almost as soon as they are armed with a crayon or pencil and paper, school children begin to doodle. Stereotypically, little girls tend to draw dolls in colorful dresses. But little boys tend to draw airplanes and, sometimes, guns. Of course, itís not a good idea to draw guns anymore because that could cause a trip to the principalís office or even suspension. But airplanes have been and probably always will be okay to doddle.
Yet, in some "progressive" schools, an airplane with U.S. military markings might get a child expelled.
Yet, if so many youngsters are so enamored with airplanes, then why do only 1/3 of one-percent of them grow up to be pilots? Hmmn. Maybe, itís because of the way we teach mathematics.
For example, the typical math problem posed to grade-schoolers begins with the proposition that Dick has 12 apples and Jane has six apples. Off the bat, that sounds like a problem in sociology or economics. Why is it that Jane has only six apples? It seems unfair that Dick has 12 apples. What has Dick done to deserve twice as many apples as Jane? Is Jane a member of a struggling minority? Does Dick come from the landed gentry?
Whether the math problem has to do with addition or subtraction or multiplication or division can become lost in these sociological or economic distractions. Or, just plain boredom. [Answers, later.]
Indeed, this apple-based question might come under that eternal question: Which is worse: ignorance or apathy? I donít know and I donít care.
But letís say the math problem is this: Your airplane holds 72 gallons of useable fuel. At your speed over the ground of 200 miles-per-hour, your engine burns 12 gallons of fuel-per-hour. At that speed, how long will it take you to fly 600 statute miles and how much fuel will you burn? How much fuel will you have left? Now thereís a math problem to engage and challenge the mind of that little boy (or girl) who is making airplane doodles.
Hereís an idea: Make it a high school graduation requirement for students to be able to pass the FAAís ground-school examination for the Private Pilot Certificate. Basic mathematics, like the problem posed above, are all that are needed to pass the math portion of the FAA ground-school requirement.
Yet the path through ground school touches on many other useful disciplines as well. For example: meteorology, computers, radio communications, electronics, navigation, chemistry, plus physics and aerodynamics. More than just math teachers could benefit from this approach.
If those subjects are taught in the context of actually leading somewhere like to a pilotís license, it might alleviate the boredom of Dick having 12 apples and Jane only six. Of course, not every student will go on, as early as age 16, to take the flight test and later become a private pilot.
But some might go on to one of the many non-pilot aviation careers such as: airport or airline management, fixed-base operations, aircraft maintenance, medivac crew member, search and rescue operations, air traffic control, employment within the large FAA or NASA bureaucracies or even to be a TV meteorologist.
While it is not actually required, three of Denver TVís, meteorologists are pilots. Two are certified flight instructors. Their knowledge and experience as pilots adds depth and texture to their weather reporting and forecasting. Itís one thing to learn meteorology from graphs, charts and measuring instruments. But to have actually flown an airplane inside a cloud enriches oneís understanding of weather in a way as no other.
Oops. Almost forgot. Answer: To fly the 600 miles would take three hours and consume 36 gallons of fuel. You would have 36 gallons of fuel remaining. Now, isnít that a lot more interesting than those stupid apples?
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today has been an instrument-rated pilot for 39 years. Writing as William Penn, he is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy -- two novels about terrorist attacks on America.
©2008. William Hamilton.