Hands-on Exploration of the Physics of Flight

What are the principles behind flight? How has aviation changed over the past 100 years? How has aviation impacted our community, our country, and the world?

These were the guiding questions presented to the group of TEA High School students participating in our first ever “Physics of Flight” Learning Intensive this fall. At TEA, Learning Intensives are semester-long academic experiences we use to bring learning to life. Powered by Constructive Adversity, Learning Intensives push students to the limits of their intellectual, social-emotional and physical boundaries while integrating academics, character, and adventure.

This Learning Intensive, in particular, looked at the physics of flight and how the aviation industry has helped shape our world. During this semester-long academic experience, students learned how to preflight a plane while participating in ground school, worked with internal combustion engines in the maintenance bay, and even flew in a fixed-wing airplane for an intro flight lesson. All of this was made possible by amazing experts and organizations in our area that hosted our students including the Nevada Air National Guard, Mountain Lion Aviation, Heli Tahoe, Care Flight, Sierra Aero, Space X, and the Fallon Naval Air Station.

"A majority of the students had an understanding of the physics, but few had much knowledge on the aviation industry as a whole."

Guided by TEA Crew Leader Matt Morrison, the intensive kicked off by building background knowledge about the principles of flight at the Reno Air Races. A majority of the students had an understanding of the physics, but few had much knowledge on the aviation industry as a whole. While there, they were able to interact with pilots and aircraft, all the while capturing content for the films they will be creating as a final product. Some highlights included: unrestricted access to the pits, where students were able to get up close to some of the amazing vintage aircraft on display, touring through military aircraft on static display including a C-17, C-130, and Ch-47 Chinook helicopter, and watching the amazing capabilities of an F-16 as it flew low and just below the speed of sound.

Following the Reno Air Race experience, the students took a trip to the Nevada Air National Guard base in Reno, where Senior Master Sergeant Paula Macomber gave the students an epic tour. While at the base, the students got to see first hand the numerous elements that went into keeping the C-130s operational and mission ready. They had the opportunity to tour and interact with Flight Safety, Operations, Air Force Fire and Rescue, and the Mechanic’s Bay.

"you could see the students coming to a realization that a career in aviation was very much within reach. "

While the Reno Air Races and the Nevada Air National Guard were tough acts to follow, the student experience at Mountain Lion Aviation brought it all home, literally and figuratively. At the Truckee-based Mountain Lion Aviation, the students met with Blake, a 21-year-old commercial pilot who started flying at age 16. Blake learned to fly at the Truckee Tahoe Airport, which is less than 3 miles from our school. As Blake gave the students a tour of Mountain Lion Aviation’s TBM 930 and Cirrus turboprop planes, you could see the students coming to a realization that a career in aviation was very much within reach.

After their visit to Mountain Lion Aviation was complete, the students trekked over to Heli Tahoe to learn about the helicopter industry, helicopter flight and listen to stories about being a certified flight instructor. And to follow up with that, Matt organized a surprise visit from our local Care Flight pilot, Tim Andersen, who landed on our sports field and engaged the students with every aspect of his A-STAR Eurocopter. And later that same day, Jamie Hadden, our local SpaceX guru, made eyes go wide with some awesome SpaceX information and the future of rocket technology and travel.

"Ben Smith’s flight was a record destroyer, as it was aloft and gaining altitude at the 30-minute mark..."

And as it wouldn’t be a TEA Learning Intensive without some sort of physical challenge, the students trekked 3 miles up to the ridge just west of Castle Peak, where they launched gliders they assembled themselves (from kits.) Not knowing what to expect, or if they would even fly, the first flight lasted just over a minute and a half and had everyone shouting with delight. The students had about a 50% success rate with all of the gliders, but Ben Smith’s flight was a record destroyer, as it was aloft and gaining altitude at the 30-minute mark before they lost sight of it. We’re pretty sure anyone hiking in the area could hear a lot of shouting and laughing when the students saw how far the gliders were flying.

And it wouldn’t be a TEA Learning Intensive without some sort of mental challenge. Jessica and Jeff Fay of Sierra Aero treated the students to a preflight walk through and flight time in their Cessna, as well as some internal combustion engine overview in their maintenance bay. The students flew in groups of 3, with Jeff assisting those in the front seat with taking off and landing. 5 flights in all! After the experience in the air, there are about 6 students that want to start learning how to fly now! It was an amazing experience!

"And amongst these students, there's a definite sense of excitement on how Space X is pushing the boundaries of what was once thought decades away."

had the opportunity to learn about a day in the life of a naval aviator. Lieutenants “Witch” (F-18G pilot) and “Redrum” (Naval Flight Officer) were their tour guides for the day, as they walked the students through Naval aviation history, pilot training and the future of Naval aviation. Students had the opportunity to gear up in G suits and $80,000 HUD helmets, hang from parachute straps to test flight harness integrity and walk out on the flight line to closely inspect the characteristics of different F – 18 variants, as well as Adversary aircraft.

Needless to say, the students who participated in the Physics of Flight Learning Intensive have a new found respect for everything that goes into keeping aircraft flying, as well as a new respect for the skills involved in piloting planes and helicopters. And amongst these students, there’s a definite sense of excitement on how SpaceX is pushing the boundaries of what was once thought decades away. And we now have 6 students who are very interested in starting flight training right away. Hopefully, Mountain Lion Aviation will have some additional openings soon!

Special thanks to Senior Master Sergeant Paula Macomber at the Nevada Air National Guard, Sara, Devin and Blake at Mountain Lion Aviation, Ian, Luca and Erica at Heli Tahoe, Tim Andersen and Bill Landon at Care Flight, Jamie Hadden at Space X, Jeff and Jessica Fay at Sierra Aero, and CDR Casey “IKE” Liggett , Lt. Taylor “Witch” Richmond and Lt. Adam “Redrum” Reddick at NAS Fallon.

And as far as we know, Ben’s glider is somewhere over the Aleutian Islands.