Sunday, April 7, 2019

Soar Into STEM Takes Off With First Weekend Activities at Wings of Hope

By Carmelo Turdo
Twenty students from the participating Kirkwood, Jennings and Ferguson-Florissant School Districts and the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri participated in the first of four Saturday sessions of the Soar Into STEM Program conducted at Wings of Hope this weekend. Soar Into STEM provides the opportunity for students to apply science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills in the field of humanitarian aviation. The students learn about aeronautics, interact with aviation professionals, get hands-on experience working on aircraft and receive flight time in a simulator and Cessna 172 at Elite Aviation at Spirit of St. Louis Airport. 

The students and mentors gathered at 9:00 A.M. Saturday in the Wings of Hope Hangar. They were later met by President and CEO Bret Heinrich during a midday break and all posed for a group photo. The session leader was Brooke Bennett, Education and Outreach Manager for Wings of Hope.

The first presentation was an introduction to Wings of Hope, including a guided tour of the lobby displays, given by Dr. Jessica Watson, Director of Programs. Wings of Hope is a global humanitarian charity and aviation non-profit organization. The main objectives are delivering humanitarian programs to the poor and assisting communities in gaining self-sufficiency. The original mission of providing humanitarian aid to people in developing countries using aircraft continues, and includes significant investment in programs that address health, education, economic opportunity and food security. In the U.S., Wings of Hope provides the Medical Relief and Air Transport (MAT) Program from its base in St. Louis. It was established in 2003 to provide access to life-saving health care within the Midwest to those who are unable to obtain or sustain transportation to specialty care facilities. This is accomplished using corporately-owned aircraft and volunteer pilots and medical staff. About 500 flights are provided annually in Wings of Hope aircraft or through the provision of commercial aircraft flights when practical. The MAT program is their largest single program measured by total resources committed. 

The morning's guest speaker was Derrick Hodges, retired USAF KC-135 tanker pilot and current corporate pilot flying the Gulfstream V. His aviation career followed from a desire to serve in the U.S. military, inspired by his father's career in the U.S. Army. Hodges has academic degrees in Computer Science, Strategic Intelligence and Aeronautical Science, and he entered the U.S. Air Force as an officer through an ROTC scholarship. Hodges completed pilot training and received one of his top choices for his duty assignment: the KC-135 tanker. He has been deployed around the world, refueling combat aircraft during training and combat missions. He later transitioned to flying senior military and civilian leaders in the C-37B, the military equivalent of the Gulfstream V. Following his retirement from the U.S. Air Force, Hodges continues to fly the Gulfstream V model used in a corporate fleet based in St. Louis. The students were eager to hear about the military flight training process and the opportunities he had to interact with different cultures while stationed overseas. 


Wings of Hope Chief Pilot, Dick Horowitz, gave a presentation on the aerodynamics of flight using his large PT-19 RC flying model. He introduced the forces of flight - lift, gravity, thrust and drag - and illustrated the location of the control surfaces using the model. With assistance from pilot mentor Jeff Rapp, Horowitz demonstrated the movement of the ailerons, elevator and rudder and explained how they affect the aircraft in flight. The students also learned the location and purpose of the flight instruments used in most general aviation aircraft.

The students gathered in four small groups and performed a pre-flight check of the Wings of Hope Cessna 182 aircraft. Each group, using a pre-flight checklist, took turns inspecting the nose, interior and each wing of the aircraft. The pre-flight inspection is a prelude to future activities that will involve removing panels and working inside the aircraft. This Cessna 182 will eventually see humanitarian service in Paraguay.  


The final segments of the first Saturday session involved the construction of balsa wood model aircraft. The students rejoined their four groups and began construction of their first flying model. This project required the assembly of the wing using spars and ribs with decal coverings. Time ran out before the groups could complete them, so the students received individual aircraft models with one-piece wings for the flying contest. Each student launched a balsa wood model from the hangar's upper level, with varying success! 

The first Soar Into STEM session concluded with a scattering of aircraft and a collection of knowledge that will be enhanced over the next three weeks. The Aero Experience thanks Wings of Hope, the pilot mentors, students, parents and everyone who contributed to making Soar Into STEM possible.

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