As the plane heads for catastrophe, Tom Harty '10 thumbs the controls, forcing the nose down and avoids a collision with a looming steel beam. While the foot-long, remote-controlled aircraft buzzes over his head, Harty speaks without breaking his concentration: “This class is so much fun!”
Monday, Dec. 11 marked the culmination of a semester’s work for “Taking Flight,” a first-year seminar about the science – and practice – of aeronautics. Harty, who would like to eventually get his pilot’s license, was one of nine students showing off their piloting skills in Bristol Field House, which served as a temporary aerodrome for dozens of flying machines of every description. The final project, a fully functional model of a World War I-era Sopwith Pup was proudly on display.
Before taking on the much larger and more difficult task of building the model biplane, Scotty Orr, of the mathematics and computer science faculty, asked the class to start small, building planes with foam and balsa wood and powering them with rubber bands. They learned the principles of aerodynamics and control surfaces through experiences with flight simulators.
He even asked the students to play with small remote-controlled planes. But these aircraft are far more than toys – they’re teaching tools. Harty has modified the frame of his, removing the lower set of wings to increase its speed, but at the expense of lift and maneuverability. “I wanted them to learn about aerodynamics,” said Orr, “about the science of flight, but also the mechanics of it – how to design and build planes.”
Orr brought both professional and personal interests to bear on the innovative class, basing the curriculum on his own experiences building an ultralight aircraft for personal use. To tackle the Sopwith model, he divided the students into three teams. “One built the biplane’s lower wing,” he said, “another built the upper wing and the third team constructed the fuselage.”
The students are enthusiastic about their accomplishments. Orr’s vision for the class succeeds because it marries the experience of hands-on learning with the theory and science of flight. The results are anything but up in the air.