In the Museum: Flight at the Museum

In the Museum: Flight at the Museum

(Dane A Penland)
Air & Space Magazine

Kara Fahy stands in front of the classroom gazing at the seventh grade boys visiting from St. John Regional Catholic School in Frederick, Maryland. “Who knows the myth of Icarus?” she asks. “How does it go?”

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A student raises his hand and recounts how young Icarus, disregarding his father’s warning about flying too near the sun, took off on wax-and-feather wings and plunged into the sea.

“So what’s the moral of the story?” asks Fahy.

The student thinks for a moment. “Don’t fly?”

It’s a typical day in the Learning Lab for Fahy and her colleague, Deborah Jackson, both aerospace educators at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.

Jackson and Fahy have 11 labs for visiting schoolchildren; this one, Forces of Flight, outlines flight’s four basic principles: weight, lift, thrust, and drag. After quickly covering the Montgolfier brothers’ 18th century experiments with hot-air balloons and the 19th century gliders of Otto Lilienthal, Fahy takes the students onto the Museum floor, where they’ll examine the Wright Model B. Because the aircraft is a reproduction, built and donated by Ken Hyde and the Wright Experience, the students are able to touch some of its parts, including its wooden propeller.

The St. John students are interested in space travel, so after returning to the lab, Fahy talks about NASA’s Constellation program, which calls for colonizing the moon and traveling to Mars.

“Let’s talk about force,” says Fahy. “How does gravity work on you? What would it be like to move around, if Earth’s gravity was twice as strong?”

“It would be like Krypton,” offers a student. “You know, the planet where Superman’s from?”

Despite their joking, the students are eager to learn. “Why does the moon have enough gravity to affect the tides of the Earth, but it can’t hold you down on the surface?” asks another student, giving Fahy the opportunity to explain how mass affects gravity in space.
Jackson and Fahy generally teach four sessions a day, with 30 students in each class; they can accommodate students ranging from kindergarten (youngsters get a 60-minute session) through 12th grade (older students are offered a 90-minute lab).

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