PORT TOWNSEND — On the past four Wednesday afternoons, a small group of enthusiastic students have looked up during Blue Heron Middle School’s early release program.
Twelve boys and girls flew hand-launched gliders, rubber-powered airplanes, electric helicopters and electric-powered airplanes in the school’s gym under the supervision of eight volunteer mentors from the community.
“You Can Fly! was a joint project between the school, the Port Townsend Silent Flight Association (PTSFA) — which supports aero modeling activities in Jefferson County — and Skillmation, a nonprofit organization that matches young people with skilled mentors.
Taking part in the program were PTSFA members Jeff Kelety (electric powered airplanes), Jim Tolpin (hand launched gliders), Bob Garrison, Jeff Becker (rubber powered airplanes), Dik Lang, Hank Fly (electric helicopters), Rob Davis and Chris Hanson.
The program is scheduled to be repeated at the end of April for another four sessions.
Kelety has been impressed with the students’ ability to catch on quickly during the four one-hour sessions.
“A few of the kids picked this up and really excelled,” he said.
The first session was focused on the slow-flying, easy-to-guide electrics. Kelety said flying electric models is like being in a cockpit. The experience became a teaching moment for Kelety.
“I realized that there was a design issue with the electric planes we were flying. So I took a commercial wing, reworked it, and then put the engine in the back to create a pusher model,” he said.
“It’s easier to fly now with the weight in the back, and the kids really liked it. It was gratifying to see the positive response.”
The second week was dedicated to electric-powered helicopters which are easy to fly. The students learned how a control stick works, and how to hover. They were exposed to the basic elements of flight including pitch, yaw and lift.
Hand-launched gliders were taught in the third session. Students wound-up and launched a series of different featherweight models across the gym to see how far they could fly.
Rubber-powered airplanes were highlighted during of the final session. Instruction was based on the Academy of Model Aeronautics successful “Alpha” program that teaches the magic of simple, rubber-powered low-tech flight.
“We put 1,000 winds into the long rubber band and the kids were quite amazed that a strand of 1/8-inch rubber can power a sustain flight for up to two minutes,” Kelety said.
Also during the final session were pylon races. The first pilot to successfully round the course won a bag of Skittles.
Kelety said that by the end of the program, students had become proficient with joystick and hand-eye coordination. He’s hoping the excitement shared with the students will turn into a long-lasting interest.
“I started doing aero-modeling when I was 14, basically the same age as some of these kids,” he said. “I haven’t stopped.
“The guys love passing along their passion,” he said.
“The low-tech stuff is the ancient technology we all grew up with. The new technology takes it to a different level. Aero-modeling has led to the evolution of drones.”
For more information, see www.skillmation.org.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]