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Students test their piloting skills

January 30, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. - Some may believe that children's attention spans are getting shorter, but a group of students inside a small classroom at the James Rumsey Technical Institute Wednesday morning might prove them wrong.

In that room, 11-year-old Chantel Burrell kept her eyes on the computer screen in front of her, carefully taking off and landing a plane using flight simulation software.

Burrell and about 20 other fifth-graders from Eagle School Intermediate participated in the activity, part of the state's Starbase Academy, a federally funded program that seeks to increase students' knowledge of math, science and technology through hands-on activities.

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Keeping their eyes on gauges at the bottom of the screen, including an altimeter, a turn and bank indicator, a magnetic compass, a vertical speed indicator and an air speed indicator, the students flew.

They took off from Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport, climbed to 2,000 feet, turned, retarded the throttle and landed.

Not all of the students mastered the landing. One boy crashed his simulated Cessna into a building, while a girl went nose-first into the ground.

After the hourlong activity, Eagle School teacher Kristina Gregory called it "wonderful."

"It enabled the kids to really experience something they've never experienced before," Gregory said. "They really enjoyed it."

To test the potential for distance-learning, a small camera in the front of the classroom broadcast the class live to several sites, including NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

Capt. Kelly Wight, a pilot with the Air National Guard, worked directly with two students, who correctly achieved the right altitude, headings and rate of descents and climbs, she said.

"They seem like naturals," said Wight, who has seen the Middle East, Europe, Central America and numerous places in the United States. "I think it would be a good profession for anybody to go into."

Burrell said she enjoyed the flight simulation.

"It was fun. It was a different learning experience," she said.

As far as whether she wants to be a pilot someday, she's keeping her options open.

"Maybe," she said.

Eventually all of the county's fifth-graders will go to the Air National Guard base once a week for four weeks for Starbase.

Students will build and launch their own rockets and learn about flight, space exploration and physics. Substance abuse prevention and goal-setting are also components of the program.

With the exception of transportation costs, everything is paid for by the U.S. Department of Defense, which has included the program in its budget through 2007.

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