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Attitude determines altitude

Third graders fly through aviation studies

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Polson Tower, this is Delta 7, five miles southwest of the airport, requesting to land,” said the crackly voice of a student pilot.

“Delta 7, this is Polson Tower. Fly into the pattern, then report to base,” said Lee Lytton from Polson Tower.

“Polson Tower, this is Delta 7 on base,” the student replied.

“Delta 7, cleared to land, off Alpha, contact ground,” Lee said, scanning the skies and checking the landing strip.

“Delta 7, cleared to land,” the student answered and guided his plane onto the runway.

Wearing real headphones borrowed from a pilot, the student flier used the correct terminology and asked the right questions even though he was in Mrs. Laud’s third grade classroom landing a cardboard plane on a paper landing strip. 

Lee was an air traffic controller at a very busy airport during the Vietnam War so he acted as Polson Tower and taught the kids how to land their planes. 

Over and over during the landings Lee stressed the number one thing was safety.

This landing exercise was part of a month-long learning experience with aviation woven into math, language arts, science, history, spelling and art. The students also memorized the military alphabet and even had aviation words for spelling words. Teacher Darcy Laud was very enthusiastic about the aviation project. She had background in teaching aviation plus she had a student in her class whose dad was a pilot, Lee, and his wife, Pam, who came into her classroom to teach aviation-related art. 

Pam and the students painted rainbow pictures of airplanes and towers to reinforce the communication between pilot and base. Pam also designed a pattern so the third graders could build cardboard planes and learn more about airplane parts, such as a fuselage, aileron, rudder, and different props.

Another day the third graders painted airplane birdhouses with Pam and talked about different sorts of planes, bi-planes and floatplanes, for example. One of Pam’s goals was to get the kids to realize aviation isn’t strictly about being a pilot. All sorts of aviation jobs are available in the field, from being a pilot to illustrating kids' books to designing kit planes to being a mechanic or working as a steward or stewardess or as a ticket seller.

Errin Bigcrane said she liked the “part when we made our cardboard planes.”

Errin painted her plane light blue, and she wants to be a pilot when she grows up.

Izaac Normandeau liked flying the cardboard planes outside even though his propeller kept flying off. 

Aviation month culminated in a field trip to Polson Airport on March 31 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., lunch included. The Blue Skies Aviation Program sponsored the field trip. Blue Skies was named for pilot Sparky Imeson, who has passed away, but who loved kids and flying. Pam said Sparky took her own kids up in his plane. 

Pilots Robert “Hawkeye” Hughes, Vinnie Jennison, Kurt Kosek, Lee Lytton, Tim Moran, Trey Moran and Bob Snyder all came to the Polson Airport to help foster the kids’ interest in aviation. The pilots showed the students their planes, talked about airplane structure and even made paper airplanes and had races. Prizes were awarded for whose plane flew the furthest and the shortest distance.

Jeanne McPherson also visited from the Montana Department of Transportation-Aeronautics, where one of her duties is coordinating air searches. 

McPherson taught survival training with a group of kids. She started out telling a story about a mom, her two little girls and their uncle. The family’s plane crashed, and the two girls, Gracie, 4, and Lily, 3, survived.

Even though Gracie was only 4, McPherson said, she knew to “hug a tree” or stay near — but not too near — to the crash site, because that’s where rescue people will start looking. 

Gracie also knew the girls needed shelter because it was cold and snowy so the youngsters took cushions from the plane to sit on. 

While this amazing story sunk into young brains,  McPherson set up a scenario for the third graders. All the students imagined they were in the plane McPherson flew from Helena, flying over Jocko Pass when the plane starts to go “r-r-r-r-r-r-r.” The engine stopped, and the students made a forced landing in the cold, snowy remote area where they probably would spend the night.   

McPherson divided the kids into three groups, Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. Each group got a survival blanket and would choose five items from a box of supplies and explain how the items would help them survive. The survival items they could choose from included:  a garbage bag, an aviation map, a winter hat, a waterproof coat with a hood, a cosmetic kit containing a mirror and a razor blade, a mystery novel, a candy bar, a full can of oil, waterproof matches, a whistle, rope, a first aid kit, water, a headset, rags, a cell phone and a compass. 

The kids got five minutes to make their choices and then had to tell the group why they chose each item and how it could be used. 

The students knew they needed to keep warm and have some way to start a fire and chose wisely.

“If you stay warm, you’ll stay alive,” Lee Lytton said. 

Then McPherson trained the students to use an emergency locator transmitter to locate a downed plane. First McPherson took the transmitter out on the ramp and turned it on; it made a roop, roop, roop sound. The kids took turns using an emergency locator receiver, which looked like a big “h” when its antennae were unfolded. 

McPherson brought the third graders back inside and then hid the transmitter on the airport grounds. Each group of three students and a pilot searched for the “downed plane” using their $1,000 receivers.

After an awards ceremony, the third graders headed back to school thinking about airplanes or possibly about the Young Eagles program to be held at Polson Airport on June 12, where kids from ages 8 to 17 can ride in an airplane.

“Hopefully,” Lee Lytton said, “they (the kids) will get a little dream started, a little spark for aviation.”

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