06/28/05 — Next generation of pilots sees math and science at work

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Next generation of pilots sees math and science at work

By Turner Walston
Published in News on June 28, 2005 1:45 PM

Wayne County's next generation of pilots just might have finished their first week of flight school.

Sixty rising fifth-graders recently completed the Starbase program, a week of classroom activities, experiments, tours and simulators to see real-world applications of math and science at Meadow Lane School and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

"The curriculum is a math- and science-related curriculum, and it fits in with the fourth- grade curriculum that they've studied already," said Connie Atkinson, a retired first-grade teacher who teaches the Laws of Motion class and helps administer the program.

"They see how important the math is, and how important the science is," Mrs. Atkinson said. "The see how that relates when they go on base."

The students spent a little more than two hours each morning in one of four classes. Other classes include Princeton Elementary teacher Allen Sasser's Oceans of Air, Spring Creek Elementary teacher Tanya Grady's Rockets and Compass Reading, which was taught by Jean Gardner of Tommy's Road.

The classroom activities went beyond their titles. Sasser's class saw air and water pressure in action by making their own tornadoes in soda bottles. Mrs. Grady's class built and launched model rockets, while Mrs. Gardner explained the many dials pilots read in aircraft. Students in Mrs. Atkinson's class protected eggs from cracking by building "eggbert crashlanders."

During the afternoons, Seymour Johnson opened its gates to show how skills learned in school relate to occupations later in life.

During the week, students parachuted from 3,000 feet (courtesy of virtual reality at Wing Life Support), landed an F-15E Strike Eagle (via a simulator), spotted aircraft on radar and learned how the Air Force tracks the weather.

They also toured a KC-135 Stratotanker, saw a military working dog demonstration and viewed the flightline from the air traffic control tower. They also toured an engine repair facility, saw water survival training for pilots and got a loadbarn weapons demonstration.

In short, they did everything but get their wings.

"They've been places that I haven't been," said Maj. Karen Madsen, who helps coordinate Starbase on the base's end. Maj. Madsen is the commander of the 4th Missions Support Squadron.

"Starbase is a fantastic opportunity for these guys to see what the Air Force is all about," she said. "They're saying 'Mom and Dad, do you know how a jet engine works? We learned all about it.'"

And their enthusiasm was infectious, Maj. Madsen said.

"It's inspiring to see all the kids and how excited they are to be here," she said.

Andrew Green said he became interested in flying through computer games. He saw Starbase as an opportunity to bring the games to life. "My dad told me there's going to be a simulator, and it's going to be fun, so I thought I'd try it."

Gage Kearney learned about pilots' survival kits at Wing Life Support.

"I didn't know that they had to used all that stuff, and that vest is pretty heavy," he said. "I never knew that they take a lot of stuff that they take."

Mrs. Atkinson said she returns to teaching in the summers because of Starbase's mission.

"I just think it's important for kids to know that what they're learning in school is going to make a difference in the world." she said.

On Friday, base commander Col. Mike Holmes addressed the students and their parents.

"If you want to grow up to do the things that you got to see this week, all the things you do in school are important," he told the children.

Norma Griffin, a retired teacher who directs the program, then had the children turn and face their parents.

"This is our future," she said, "and we are proud of them."