Helicopter Demonstration for Schools

from Philip Greenspun and East Coast Aero Club; updated November 2016

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You've got an athletic field; we've got two helicopters and six instructors. We'll come to you, show the students the helicopter, and teach age-appropriate lessons on aerodynamics, qualitative physics, and the engineering and mathematics around helicopters and helicopter flying.

If your school is within about 50 miles of our home base of Hanscom Field (Bedford, Massachusetts), keep reading...

How it Works

We can bring up to three teachers, all FAA-certificated pilots and/or instructors, to your school. Once we land, typically in a soccer or baseball field, and shut down (three minutes), we can show groups of students the helicopter up-close. If desired, we can then come into your classrooms and explain how helicopters work, the process of becoming a pilot, and talk about what people need to study in order to become pilots or aeronautical engineers.

If we just land, do a show-and-tell at the helicopter, and depart, we can fit it all into 30-45 minutes.

A schedule that worked well at a K-5 school with about 425 students was the following:

Total time: 1.5 hours.

Our qualifications

Most of us at East Coast Aero Club have a technical background as well as our FAA training. My own background is typical. I hold an FAA Airline Transport Pilot certificate with multi-engine, single-engine seaplane, and helicopter ratings. I have more than 4500 hours of flying experience including trips from Boston to Alaska (twice), Mexico, the Caribbean, Labrador-Newfoundland, and back. I flew 50-seat regional jets for a Delta Airlines subsidiary and have been a flight instructor since 2005 at East Coast Aero Club. I studied mathematics and engineering at MIT, culminating in a PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. In addition to experience teaching MIT undergraduates, I have been a volunteer tutor for students in three Massachusetts public schools.

The Helicopter

We will show up in a a Robinson R44 helicopter. This is the world's best-selling helicopter, with hundreds coming off the assembly line in Torrance, California every year.

Safety

A student pilot could safely land a helicopter in a soccer field. It begins to get more challenging as the cleared area for landing shrinks down to the size of a tennis court. We ask that you provide us with at least a baseball field. The actual spot where we set down need not be large, perhaps the size of four parking spaces.

We ask that you arrange students so that we don't have to fly over their heads when landing or taking off. We will want to be landing and departing into the wind and not over the tallest trees, for example. Mostly don't surround the landing area with people on all sides! Also, please tell students not to approach the helicopter while the rotors are spinning.

We have at least a standard $1 million liability insurance policy on our helicopters.

The Cost

We do not charge to come to your school, whether public or private. My most vivid memory from elementary school (early 1970s) was the day that the local TV station landed their Bell 47 on our athletic fields. Giving your students the experience of seeing a helicopter land, hover, and take off again will be our reward.

If we go into your classrooms we ask that you assign an adult to safeguard the helicopter from overly curious fingers! We love kids, but don't want them hanging on the tail rotor.

References

In April 2017 we visited the Meadowbrook School in Weston, Massachusetts. Jonathan Schmid was the primary organizer and he can tell you what worked. In May 2017 we visited the Pine Hill School, part of the Dover-Sherborn system. Hessie Sheldon was the organizer.

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Text Copyright 2016-2017 Philip Greenspun. Photo at top right by Ellis Vener. Photo at the Meadowbrook School courtesy Jonathan Schmid.
philg@mit.edu