CHARLOTTESVILLE — Raina Armstrong gripped a hefty remote controller, the joysticks manipulating a virtual reality remote control airplane.
The little red plane lifted off, drifted into the air and then into a distant field in the simulation, where it smashed into hundreds of pieces.
The first and second attempts at flying the simulation of a remote control airplane resulted in takeoff, followed by an immediate hard landing, for most of the eighth-grade students in Joe Paxton’s technology classes at Eastern Hancock Middle School on Monday. Ted Brindle, a radio control airplane pilot and member of the Indianapolis Radio Control Modelers Club, shared his experiences with the 33 students as they completed a unit on aeronautics.
The students spent March and April studying the history and mechanics of flight, Paxton said.
“We created hot air balloons right before spring break, and this is another opportunity to show them some flying machines,” he said.
Brindle, a retired aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, showed a presentation to the two classes featuring historical information and videos of the most prominent RC pilots in the country. He handed out prizes to the students who knew flight facts like the first person in space — that was Russian Yuri Gagarin, who went into orbit April 12, 1961.
He spoke about the mechanics of flight, from the four forces of flight — lift, drag, thrust and weight — to how pilots manage these forces with various controls. He brought a 3-foot foam radio control plane to the classroom to demonstrate how the joysticks correspond to the plane’s mechanics.
“Coordination is what makes things happen,” he said. “Real pilots say it’s harder to fly RC planes than the real thing.”
Students fired off questions about Brindle’s hobby, asking how much the RC planes and their accessories cost. Brindle has spent as much as $1,000 on one plane, covering the aircraft, its radios and receivers. The biggest RC models can have a 12- to 14-foot wingspan and cost up to $15,000, he told the class of wide-eyed students.
At the end of Brindle’s presentation, students lined up for a chance to try the flight simulator, putting into practice all they’d studied about aeronautics.
Matt Carter’s attempts were some of the most successful, which he credited to his experience manning a four-rotor drone he got for Christmas last year.
“I thought it was very interesting; I learned a lot,” Carter said. “I might even take a career in engineering.”
Trying to figure out which controls correspond with which axes of rotation was challenging, Raina said.
Her grandfather built RC planes when she was little, which gave her a personal connection to the aeronautics unit.
“It was actually pretty fun for me,” she said. “It helped me understand what my grandpa did.”