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Math and Science Odyssey 2003

Picture of students at math science odyssey
Jim Sokolik, a Dryden life support technician employed by Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems, explains the basic elements of the suit worn by Dryden pilots who fly the high altitude ER-2 aircraft. NASA Photo

By Jay Levine
X-Press Editor

The fifth annual Math and Science Odyssey 2003 demonstrated the Wright way to teach students and infuse them with excitement about math, science and technology.

Using a Wright brothers' theme to unify many of the day's activities Feb. 7, students listened to inspirational and interesting speakers and participated in myriad hands-on activities at Antelope Valley College's main campus in Lancaster. Dryden's Office of Academic Investments and the college partnered with a number of sponsors to conduct the Odyssey.

The event attracted 255 students from 16 regional middle schools, which is the largest enrollment of any of the Odyssey events to date. In addition, seven more schools were invited and attended. Students and teachers received a history lesson in how Orville and Wilbur Wright became interested in flight and some of the ways they made it possible for people today to use aviation for travel, completing business, protecting the country and transporting goods. Marta Bohn-Meyer, Dryden's chief engineer, told students that regardless of their backgrounds, there is a role in aerospace for them if they excel in math and science and seek out careers that fit what they want to do or pursue related career options. For example, not everyone will be able to become a pilot, but careers in engineering also could be rewarding.

She supported her speech with personal photographs and recollections of a relatively average childhood - brothers and sisters, a member of Brownies, and an excellent student. Exposure to flight at age 14, she said, is what led her down the path of aircraft and ultimately, to a career in aviation.

Picture of students at math science odyssey
Airborne Science's Richard Wong explains Dryden's DC-8 flying laboratory aircraft

Bohn-Meyer also led an activity at the Odyssey, where students could ask questions of Dryden pilot Craig Bomben, who was flying overhead in the F-18 Active Aeroelastic Wing (AAW). She helped students understand aeronautical terms like lift and drag, while students were in a "control room."

An innovative team of Mike Yettaw, Western Aeronautical Test Range (WATER) communications facility lead, Randy Barnicki, Arcata, and Doug Boston, Arcata, designed and built a display that showed a typical AAW aircraft research flight cockpit gauges, global interactive RIM (GRIM) and a heads-up display. The three men and the communications team also designed and built the link that allowed Bohn-Meyer and the students to use a wireless microphone connected to a standard telephone line to link the "control room" to the pilot. The communications team also included Arcata employees Thomas Barlow, Brian Castner, Donavon Hoover, Darren Mills and Justin (Luke) Thomas. After asking Bomben about aeronautical concepts, there was time for students to ask other questions - like how does one become a pilot? "The best advice I can give you is to stay in school, study hard in math and science, and read everything you can about aviation," he said.

And then Bomben reinforced one of Bohn-Meyer's assertions earlier in the day about the possibilities of careers in aviation when students asked him what he would have chosen as a career if he could not have become a pilot.

"I can't imagine not being a pilot. I would probably try to build airplanes if I could not fly them," Bomben said. Arroyo Seco Junior High School, Valencia, students Tym Belanger and Jordan Franklyn were inspired by the pilot.

"It was fun talking to a pilot. I asked him how long a typical research flight was and he said between a half an hour and 13 to 14 hours," Belanger said.

Franklin liked when the pilot asked the students questions, which Bohn-Meyer helped them to answer.

"He asked us what is a Mach Number? A Mach Number is equal to the speed of sound. Math and science are my favorite subjects," he said. Dryden's External Affairs Officer Cam Martin, with the help of three students volunteers, flew simple toy helicopters to demonstrate some of the engineering problems the Wright brothers had to solve in order to perfect the airplane. All of the students in the Odyssey group received a helicopter of their own for experimenting, courtesy of Midwest Model Products.

Students also were treated to Bob Hoey, a retired aerospace engineer, who inspired students about his use of modern flight research techniques to understand how birds fly. During his presentation entitled "Research on the Stability and Control of Soaring Birds," he showed his flying aircraft models made in the likeness of birds and video of how they performed in flight.

Many of the presenters also used the Wright theme in their presentations. For example, Wyatt Sadler production supervisor for AeroVironment spoke about some of the Wright brothers' flight research techniques, such as sub-scale models, and how those techniques have impacted flight research of complicated modern marvels of flight such as the high altitude Helios Prototype. The Helios Prototype set a record for altitude in 2001 and aims to do so again this year with a record attempt at a duration flight.

Jennifer Hansen, a Dryden aerospace engineer, also used the Wright theme to her presentation and demonstrated some similar concepts that helped the Wright brothers brainstorm solutions to some of their engineering problems. The Wright brothers were unique for their work on controlling the aircraft, not just trying to fly it, she said.

"I think they get an introduction to the challenges of engineering and aeronautics and having experts here is important because it makes aeronautics more interesting and helps the kids think that math and science can lead to feasible career choices. They are able t o do things here that they are not able to do in the classroom. The Odyssey also fits nicely into the eighth grade standards on the physics of flight and astronomy," said Carol Barrett, who teaches at Joshua Middle School in Mojave.

In one presentation, students where given a thin, long piece of metal and told to bend it back and forth. After a few times, the metal snapped.

That's how Christian Gelzer, a Dryden historian who works for AS&M, relayed to students what metal fatigue is and how it happens. He also showed supporting video of aircraft accidents in explaining how flight research has helped bolster efforts to fly safely.

"When bad things happen, sometimes we know why and sometimes we have to find out," Gelzer said.

He used the example of the Comet I, a commercial jet used in the early 1950s. A Comet I that crashed in the Mediterranean Sea was reconstructed after an accident to determine what went wrong. A black streak was a clue that led investigators to look at the rubber seals on the windows. People were unaware of fatigue issues in the early days of commercial jets, but the investigation led to changes to keep that kind of accident from happening, he said.

Odyssey Program Coordinator Tami Simmons, AS&M, said the event was excellent and she plans that it will be expanded next year. "It was very successful. Every year we have meetings on how to improve it. The theme this year was exciting and many presenters embraced it to make the event even more enjoyable for the students. We had more presenters than ever before and more varied topics," Simmons said.

Sponsors of the event included Dryden, Antelope Valley College, SBC, U.S. Borax of Boron and Valencia, the American Association of University Women, the Antelope Valley Chapter of the Ninety-Nines, and the Antelope Valley College Foundation.