A 05:30 alarm started the day for the intrepid Science Teacher and Pilot. Awake and straight onto the computer to check the weather and put in wind corrections to the flight plan that would see Zara take her fledgling STEM Outreach program to the skies for the very first time, to Wycheproof in North Victoria with co-pilot Scott Jessett.
A calm morning, early fog had been predicted, but driving out to Lilydale Airport low cloud was threatening to present a greater problem. The initial plan was for wheels up at 08:30, but with cloud forecast at 800 ft for Kilmore Gap (a critical location enroute to the North of the ranges) it was an hour later before Zara and Scott were wheels-up in Piper Arrow VH-PAR, and on their way. Melbourne weather true to form however, and as soon as they were clear of Kilmore, the cloud base lifted to blue skies and the rest of the flight went exactly to plan, smooth conditions and an amazing view (YLIL-KIM-YBDG-YWYF).
Arriving above the Wycheproof township just after 11:00, Zara overflew the P-12 College at 2000ft to notify Head of Science Barry Crocket (and organiser of the incursion) of their arrival, then landed PAR at the quiet airstrip, mostly used for agricultural activities, just North of the town. A short car trip to the school followed and a wonderfully warm welcome was received; to the tune of “Ahh, you must be the pilots?” as they walked in through the main entrance.
The first class was for the Year 7 and 8’s. Due to the slightly late arrival (typical Melbourne weather) Scott took the lead for a few minutes as Zara organised the activities for the lesson. A commercial pilot in training, 19 year old Scott was a fantastic role model for the young teenagers. Quipping that whilst he was able to fly a plane on his own several years ago, at that time his mum still had to drop him off at the airport for his lesson.
Aircraft Controls was the title of the lesson for the 7/8’s. Looking first at how an aircraft archives straight and level flight, each student was given a printed instrument panel and had a go at reading the example altimeter. An old artificial horizon, once used in a training aircraft was then passed around so the students could have a first-hand look at the instrument, including the gyro mechanism in the back. A kinaesthetic demonstration of the use of control surfaces followed, with one very enthusiastic student up the front acting as a pitching/rolling/yawing aircraft to help demonstrate the principles being discussed. Following this, the students were then tasked to design two paper planes. One that would perform the longest straight-and-level flight and another that could perform an aerobatic time manoeuvre; including one student whose design pitched-up so successfully, that it ended up in the netting of the basketball court roof.
For lunch Barry and his wife very kindly took Zara and Scott to the local bakery, along with sharing some local fun facts. Such as the World’s Smallest Mountain (Mount Wycheproof) and the train line that quite literally splits the township in two.
The afternoon session combined the Year 4, 5 and 6 students. Looking at the four forces of flight, each force (gravity, lift, drag and thrust) was discussed, and then the students broke off into groups to investigate each task in a hands-on experiment. A classroom buzzing with activity, the straw jets seemed to be a favourite, with the session wrapped up with a lovely little thank you speech from one of the students.
Overall, the day was a huge success. As always with something new it was a great learning experience for those running the session as much as it was for the students who participated. Most significantly however, the concept of flying out to a rural school to provide a fun and inspiring STEM program has been undoubtedly proven, and early feedback from the students indicates they thoroughly enjoyed the sessions. Wycheproof P-12 College was a great location. With wonderfully welcoming staff, Zara and Scott also met a great group of students; polite, engaged and enthusiastic. And of course a huge thanks to Barry for organising everything. Scott took the controls of PAR to fly home, allowing Zara to capture some great snaps of the vast landscape that is North Victoria, arriving safely back at Lilydale just after 17:30.
It was a huge 12 hours, but worth every moment… Airborne outreach is clear for take-off!