Physics & Flight at OHS

Physics & Flight at OHS

 Introducing Students of Oscoda & Alcona Co., MI

To Physics & Flight



            Iosco and Alcona Counties in Michigan have low average incomes and about 60% of the children in school are receiving welfare benefits.  This means that the school district funding does not have the resources to provide some of the advanced programs available in other parts of the country.

            Elizabeth is a graduate of Yale University and she has known Pete since high school where she met him through the Boy Scout's Exploring program.  She is a private pilot and she mentioned that Harvard has a program encouraging students to provide outreach to school systems with challenges and little penetration of the Ivy League.  As a graduate student in Physics with undergraduate degrees on Mathematics and Physics she was relatively well prepared academically to bring some advanced concepts to interested students in northeast lower Michigan.  Elizabeth's current area of study is 'Quantum Gravity' and she is comfortable talking about the investigative methods used to approach that subject.  We made the Superintendents of the Oscoda and Alcona Schools aware of the possibility of adding a week of lunchtime and after school activities centered on physics and both Dr. Moore of Oscoda Schools and Mr. O'Connor of Alcona Schools jumped at the opportunity.



            Our concept was to provide interested students with an opportunity to learn how the things they were learning in school could be extended into post-secondary education and beyond.  They would discuss some advanced concepts in mathematics and physics with Elizabeth and get informal information about the opportunities available to good students at high end schools.  The academic material would center around some of the concepts Elizabeth works with as a graduate student in physics.

            In the interest of making some of the concepts of gravity tangible, we also decided to offer the participating students an opportunity to experience 'supergravity' at 2 G's and 'microgravity' at close to 'zero' G.  The plan was to accomplish this in a light general aviation aircraft.  To ensure that parents were aware of the activity the students were participating in - and to widen the educational experience, we elected to conduct the flights under the 'Young Eagles' program of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA).

            The 'Young Eagles' program offered the students an opportunity to further investigate the aviation part of the experience by providing a free 6 month student membership to EAA; free access to the Sporty's online private pilot ground school, an opportunity to acquire a free hour of flight instruction and the opportunity to compete for flight training scholarships worth a lot of money.  Of course, the students got a lot more out of the flight than just the gravitational accelerations.  They gained a 'pilot's perspective' of the Earth and got acquainted with a variety of concepts commonly associated with aviation.  This included some of the physics of flight, actually performing a takeoff and a landing in an aircraft, ground operations, and the basics of maneuvering in flight.  They were each rewarded with a logbook and a certificate for making the flight.


            The first week, Elizabeth taught during lunch but primarily after school in the Oscoda Area Schools.  This took place from May 21st thru May 25th.  The principle coordinator was Ms. Melissa Yang.  Melissa is the physics teacher at Oscoda Area Schools and she was trained as a scientist in biology before studying to become a teacher.  About fifteen students elected to participate and thirteen obtained parental consent to fly.  Each student flew on a one hour flight with another student and Pete Mapes.  The students were taught to control the aircraft as part of the 'Young Eagles' program and each logged about 30 minutes of flight instruction from a Federal Aviation Administration Certified Flight Instructor.  Of the thirteen Oscoda Area students, one was a young woman and twelve were young men.

            The second week was conducted with students from Alcona Schools from the 4th thru the 8th of June.  The science teacher at Alcona is Ms. Abbie Krentz.  Alcona took a different tack from Oscoda and integrated Elizabeth into the classroom for two periods a day.  Elizabeth also held a math clinic during lunchtime for students not currently enrolled in a physics class.  Alcona opened the flying portion up to students not currently enrolled in physics but who had previously completed the course and other students interested in the sciences.  Thirty students from Alcona Area Schools elected to fly.  About 14 students participated in the two periods of classroom experience.  Unlike Oscoda, the bulk of the Alcona participants were young women.


            Nona Mapes did yeoman service driving back and forth to the Oscoda and Alcona Area Schools transporting students and permission slips.  Some days she made up to five round trips, logging nearly 250 miles a day when servicing the Alcona program.

            Elizabeth conducted the program with a minimal amount of supplies but she did utilize some funds to purchase some books about advanced physics for the teachers to keep in their classrooms.  Most of her transport was provided by Nona.

            Pete had to keep the aircraft fueled, operating and serviced as well as coordinating with EAA for materials.

Flight Profile

            When students arrived at the airport, Pete introduced them to the aircraft, discussed scholarship opportunities and made sure their permission slips were in order.  He briefed each pair of students on the basic concepts of flight, introduced the axes of flight, maneuvering flight controls and how they caused motion about the axes.  He discussed power and how it enabled climbs or descents then described steering and braking systems so the students would understand how to operate the aircraft while taxiing.  The concept of a preflight inspection was introduced, the students where taught to use a checklist then they started the aircraft and taxied out.

            For the first half of each flight, one student performed the taxi out, takeoff and climb.  At an altitude of roughly 3,000' above the Earth's surface, students experienced 'supergravity' as they rolled into a sixty degree bank steep turn and felt what operating at 2 Gravity's worth of acceleration felt like.  The aircraft could be trimmed to hold a level sixty degree bank turn hands off so students were free to try to raise their arms while accelerating at 19.6 m/sec2.  The next maneuver was a parabolic trajectory allowing the students to experience microgravity for approximately four seconds.  In weightlessness, the students observed the 'magic floating checklist' as it lifted off Pete's hand in the front part of the aircraft and appeared to float between the front seat occupants shoulders into the back seat as the aircraft accelerated away from it while falling at 9.8 m/sec2 .  Facebook TM and 'You Tube' TM came alive as students posted stills and videos of their experiences on the internet.

            The first student completed their portion of the flight by reducing power and making a landing back at the Oscoda-Wurtsmith Community Airport where the students would change places and repeat the experience with the second student flying.  For the most part, students were able to operate the aircraft well and most made unassisted takeoffs and landings with minimal instruction.  Three out of forty-three students experienced airsickness.

            The flight experience brought some nice benefits!  On Wednesday of the week  when the Alcona students flew, there were broken clouds so for seven of the eight sorties the flight had to climb through a hole in the clouds to get 'on top.'  This provided a beautiful view of a 'Glory' surrounding the shadow of the aircraft in the cloud tops.  A 'Glory' is a double rainbow appearing around the shadow of the aircraft in the cloud tops.

flight in the air

On Thursday, six of the eight Alcona students were at the airport to receive tours of a US Coast Guard Dolphin H-65 helicopter made by Eurocopter.  The four crew members made a superb effort to answer questions and let the students see the helicopter from the inside and the outside.  The Crew consisted of two pilots, a mechanic and a rescue swimmer.  The young woman who was serving as the mechanic really enchanted the high school students with her application of science to her job!  The visit by the Coast Guard was a great 'extra' for the day!

Helicopter Inside Helicopter

Another bonus for the first two Alcona students to fly on Thursday was the opportunity to watch a Boeing 767 land at Oscoda-Wurtsmith Community Airport from a taxiway next to the runway!


The first day of flying the Oscoda students resulted in a weather delay and the second day of flying the Oscoda students was a 'weather cancel' due to low cloud ceilings.  Apart from those two intrusions in the schedule, there were no scheduling issues.


            The program seemed to be a real success and generated a lot of questions and compliments from the students.  The experience definitely widened horizons and got some participants thinking 'outside of the box.'

            The two schools involved provided outstanding support to their students as they facilitated the experience.  High praise is due to the science teachers from Oscoda, Ms. Melissa Yang and Mr. Mike Berenkowski as well as Ms. Abbie Krentz from Alcona High School.  The principals from Alcona (Mr. Barber) and Oscoda (Mr. Allison) also provided staunch support in making this available to the students and the Superintendents for both schools, Dr. Scott Moore from Oscoda and Mr. Dan O'Connor from Alcona were all in as soon as they saw the potential for their students.

            This program could easily be expanded to other school systems.  Both Oscoda and Alcona would like to make it available to their students next year!