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Above the Clouds: The Airplanes
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Learning that Delivers: Site Guide
>> Classroom Objectives, Subjects & Age Level for Activities
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Map of Omaha, Nebraska drawn by airmail pilot Farr Nutter features railroad tracks, the Missouri River, and an airfield.
Map of Omaha, Nebraska drawn by airmail pilot Farr Nutter features railroad tracks, the Missouri River, and an airfield.

- Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

Learning that Delivers: More Ideas for Activities

Map It
Early airmail pilots used compasses, road maps, and notable features on the landscape (such as train tracks, rivers, and buildings) to find their way. They were setting out America's first, regular air routes and they did not have set paths to follow or topographical maps with information available to them. After a time, some pilots wrote down descriptions of the landscape and the particular winds and directions along a route. They made hand-drawn maps of the route and sketches of landing fields to share with other pilots. These maps included information on the best direction from which to approach the landing field, pictures of trees, buildings and other obstacles, and the direction of the wind.

Eyeball iconActivity
Place a book or some other object on a table or chair. Draw a map of the room with visual clues locating the book's position. Include enough information for someone to find his or her way. Test your map. See if someone else can locate the book by using your hand-drawn map.

Improve a Paper Airplane
Try a hands-on activity to underscore innovation based on trial and error.
>> Find resources on paper airplanes.

Eyeball iconActivity
1. Make a paper airplane (any style).
2. Fly the paper airplane and record observations on its performance.
3. Hypothesize what you think may make the paper airplane fly farther, steadier, faster, etc.
4. Put these hypotheses to the test. Alter the design accordingly.
5. Fly the paper airplane again to see if the improvement works as predicted.
(Repeat four and five times to try different design and construction ideas)

Invention Exploration
Inventors look for innovation in the everyday. They start with what they know and look to fix the problems and fill in the gaps. Inventors often take us beyond what we think is possible. Inventors often take us beyond what we currently think is possible.

The Wright Brothers repaired and sold bicycles before they began to design the first airplane. They decided to find a way for the pilot to balance the airplane in the air, the same way a cyclist balances a bicycle. They tested the controls on a kite and a series of gliders. The Wright Brothers created new ideas based on their knowledge of mechanics and engineering.

Eyeball iconActivity
1. Be an inventor. Create a new way to move people and things more quickly and safely. Think of a creative change for one of the following vehicles (spacecrafts, cars, trains, ships, carts, bicycles, wheelchairs) or perhaps envision a completely, new mode of transportation.
2. Draw your new invention on paper. Focus on what will make this vehicle new or different.
3. Create a model. Gather materials from around your classroom or home to make a model of your new invention (paper, glue, tape, paperclips, string, balloons, plastic cup, milk carton).

Rules and Regulations
The Post Office Department assigned superintendents to make sure airmail moved as swiftly as possible. However, superintendents were also responsible for the pilots' safety and the expensive airplanes they used. Sometimes the demand for speedily moving the mail and the interests of the pilots and the equipment were not always given equal consideration. The superintendents placed heavy demands upon the pilots to fly in all types of weather conditions and in the dark of night. Nevertheless, pilots were generally a courageous bunch. They could even be rather rowdy and they definitely liked the independence the pioneering age of flight offered. Balancing the pilots' personalities and the need to move the mail could make the superintendents' job a difficult one.

Eyeball iconActivity
Pretend you are the first airmail superintendent. Write the first 10 rules and regulations that the airmail service pilots must follow. Keep in mind the need for safety and professional behavior, as well as the importance of time schedules, record keeping, and the need to move the mail.

Why Fly?
What moved people to explore the realm of flight? What motivated the early pilots to face the dangers of flight?

Eyeball iconActivity
Early pilots had many personal and professional considerations to weigh in choosing their career: danger, discomfort, adventure, salary, and fame to name a few. Make a pros and cons list of the rewards and the drawbacks of serving as an airmail pilot.

Dare to Dream
Motivation is a quality that inspires people learn and improve. Express your personal motivations through one of the following:

Eyeball iconActivity A
Create a piece of art that describes what motivates you. Make a collage (use pictures from a magazine, catalog, etc.), make a mobile, draw a picture, or create a song.

Eyeball iconActivity B
Write an essay comparing the creation of airplanes to other inventions.

Eyeball iconActivity C
Write a poem about the beauty of flight. How does human flight compare to the ability of birds?

Eyeball iconActivity D
Pretend you are an airmail pilot. Write a diary entry of your first flight.

Eyeball iconActivity E
Write an acrostic using an airmail word. To make an acrostic, turn each letter of your chosen word into a separate word. For example, an acrostic for the word "plane" might be, Pilots, Land, Airplanes, Navigate, Engine.

Fly Points
There are many interesting facts about early flight and the role airmail played.

Eyeball iconActivity
Make a trivia game from the facts you find in this website. Players will receive "fly points" for their correct answers. The winner is the one who collects the most "fly points."
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