Sunday, October 29, 2023

2023 SOAR Into STEM Fall Session 3: Navigation and Communication

By Carmelo Turdo
SOAR Into STEM Fall Session 3 was held at Wings of Hope on Saturday, and this week's theme was Navigation and Communication. Students completed a flight planning exercise, flew desktop flight simulators and role-played through an air traffic control exercise. The session was led by Wings of Hope Education Coordinator, Robert Powell, with help from volunteer mentors with a bit a Halloween spirit. 

The opening discussion focused on the application of Navigation and Communication in aviation, and the remainder of the session provided opportunities for students to practice these skills. Key terms were discussed, and the phonetic alphabet was also introduced. Spelling even simple words with the phonetic alphabet can be a challenging and sometimes comical experience. The main class was conducted by Cathy Babis, a CFI and former air traffic controller, dressed up as a somewhat lost and confused Amelia Earhart.

One way to observe the importance of verbal communication is to describe even a simple process, such as folding a paper airplane, to another person who does not have the benefit of observing the procedure as they hear the directions. The students paired up and tried their best to clearly communicate the steps to complete the paper airplane to a partner, with varying degrees of success. 

Another activity during the session was a navigation exercise that involved plotting a course using scale maps and training versions of aeronautical charts. An MAT flight scenario was proposed, and the students prepared a planning worksheet containing direction, distance and flight time to various destinations. The SOAR Into STEM mentors were available to assist in the process.

The students also tried their skills at the desktop flight simulator station. Many types of aircraft, from the Piper Cub to the F-35, were flown using the knowledge gained from the previous sessions on the forces of flight, cockpit controls and aircraft structures.

A new activity from the Spring Session was continued - an air traffic control exercise using a large airport diagram laid out on the hangar floor. The students took turns playing the parts of aircraft pilots and air traffic controllers communicating during operations around the airport in a scripted scenario. The aircraft were represented by RC Spheros as they landed, taxied and took off from the airport. 

The students were then treated to a video chat with Jenna Cadwallader, who serves as a NASA Flight Technician currently working on the construction and testing of the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) satellite in Bangaluru, India. The spacecraft will continuously monitor the earth's surface every twelve days to develop a baseline of the changes observed over its three-year mission. Launch is set for sometime in 2024.

She obtained her A&P Mechanic/Avionics Technology Certification at a trade school while working full-time and developed the skills to join the Jet Propulsion Laboratory team during preparations for the Perseverance Mars Rover mission a few years ago. She described the rigorous procedure for suiting up and entering the "clean room" where the rover's sample collection system was being tested, and she expects to return to that program after the NISAR satellite is deployed. She answered questions from the students and used herself as an example of someone who is pursuing her career in an unconventional way.

The students then gathered with their SOAR Into STEM mentors to review the day's activities and discuss other items of interest covered in this and previous sessions. Session 4 next week will focus on uncrewed aerial vehicles, or drones, and their role in humanitarian aviation services around the world.

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