Helicopter landing surprises elementary students

Houston Elementary first-grade students received a surprise recently, just as they were discussing how to design a new helicopter rotor: A real Bell helicopter from Fort Worth landing on their school playground.

For a week, the first-graders have been participating in an engineering project called “Helicopter Hang Time” to create a better rotor. Working in teams, students have looked at and created prototypes to find the best way to make a model helicopter that will land slower than its prototype counterparts.

Will Williamson and Scott Chachere, Bell Helicopter pilots who brought their chopper to the school, told the first-graders that helicopters have several important parts to ensure they fly properly.

“For an airplane to take off, it has to gain speed and use a runway,” Williamson explained. “With a helicopter, you can take off immediately thanks to the rotors.”

The pilots said two primary controls — a “cyclic” stick and a “collective” lever — move the helicopter by changing the pitch angle of the blades and telling it when rotors should work together to increase total lift. Other instruments, such as pedals and the throttle, give the helicopter more precise details, such as speed.

Students watch as the helicopter prepares for takeoff. The helicopter’s pilots taught the students about how the chopper works, including how the rotors help it fly.

Williamson and Chachere demonstrated some of the unique moves a helicopter can do in their Bell 407, such as making it wave to students by moving the chopper’s tail section up and down. After the demonstrations, students were able to look inside the helicopter and ask questions to the pilots.

Patricia Boosa, the first-grade teacher overseeing the event, said the lesson is fun to teach, and students said it’s just as much fun to learn.

“I got to get a good look up close at the helicopter — and I have never been that close to a helicopter before,” said first-grader Araceli Wright. “I was so surprised, but now I know what real rotor blades look like.”

The students took home working model rotor blades that they can spin, which will help them formulate ideas for their new rotor designs. With new models and firsthand experience of seeing a helicopter up close, students said they gained important engineering ideas.

“The best part about talking to the pilots was that they taught us about their helicopter,” said first-grader Kash Rogers. “They were really nice.”

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