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St. Timothy students trade in classroom for an airplane for a day

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The classroom for the 56 seventh-graders from St. Timothy School in Chantilly had wings instead of walls — two wings, more than 150 seats, pilots and flight attendants. Lucky chaperones were seated in first class and the students took their seats in economy. But they were grounded.

The students acted as the live studio audience for the Dec. 13 filming of STEM in 30, a webcast produced by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and hosted by Marty Kelsey and Beth Wilson.

This episode, which traced the family tree of the airplane from the first flight of Orville and Wilbur Wright Dec. 17, 1903, to today, was filmed on a United Airlines Boeing 767 Dreamliner at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum in Chantilly. The plane, stationed out of Dulles International Airport, was on loan for the day from United Airlines.

Nicole Testani, St. Timothy science teacher, wanted her students to gain a general understanding of aviation. “I want them to appreciate the hard work and contributions of the scientists who literally changed our world by developing aviation,” she said.

Wilson, a parishioner of Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria, said this is the first time the program has gone live on an airplane. “One of the things we try to do is give kids different experiences whether we are bringing them into a plane or on a hot air balloon or we were recently on an aircraft carrier,” said Wilson. “We also try to expose children not only to the STEM fields, but to different jobs in that. A lot of kids would not think that an airline pilot needs to understand the STEM field.”

Claire McCarthy, a seventh-grader, enjoyed the opportunity to ask questions of pilots and aeronautical experts. “We have been preparing questions and talking about what we would be doing on this field trip,” said McCarthy.

They asked questions ranging from “How many people could the first airplane carry and how many does this carry?” to “What causes turbulence?” The students even got to act like airplanes, mimicking the yaw, pitch and roll axes of the plane.

The aircraft of the Wright Brothers had a lasting effect on airlines, according to Wilson.

“They took their very first flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C.,” she said. “The first flight lasted about 12 seconds, but it changed the world.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017