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Pilot's sessions teach lessons to Southport Presbyterian 5th graders

Frequent Flyer A

William J. Booher, Indianapolis Star
May 16, 2009

The 16 students in Tiffany Ludlow's fifth-grade class at Southport Presbyterian Christian School got plenty in return when they adopted a Southwest Airlines pilot.

"Probably the field trip was the best part. We got to go in the cockpit of the plane," said Megan Poad, 10.

On Tuesday, the class toured a jetliner at Indianapolis International Airport, a field trip arranged by Southwest Airlines first officer Rick Childers, 36, a resident of Franklin Township.

The tour came after Childers conducted five weekly one-hour sessions for fifth-graders at the school at 7525 McFarland Blvd. in Perry Township under Southwest's Adopt-a-Pilot program.

The hands-on sessions emphasize the importance of learning about such subjects as math, science and geography by showing how they apply to being a pilot, Childers said.

"I was surprised to see 180 buttons in the cockpit," said Rachel Witsaman, 11, describing the control panel used by the plane's pilot and co-pilot.

"It was fun," said Brogan Hagemeier, 11, after the tour. "I learned a lot of new and interesting things about how the plane works, and I followed the machinery for the baggage."

Childers showed students the baggage-handling process, including the lengthy belt system to move luggage.

Ludlow said Childers had students create paper planes and instructed them on how to throw them into the wind to get them to fly higher. He used a pingpong ball and a hair dryer to show air pressure, she added.

"I learned a lot about how the plane gets off the ground, with lift and drag, thrust and gravity," Brogan said.

Students applied their knowledge of math by calculating distances between cities on Childers' flight schedule and measuring how the clock time differs among time zones.

Childers, a former Continental Airlines pilot, joined Southwest Airlines nearly a year ago. Southport Presbyterian, which is not far from his home, is his first Adopt-a-Pilot effort.

Childers said the program is geared toward fifth-graders and was begun by Southwest in 1997. It now includes 750 Southwest pilots who instruct about 35,000 students annually across the nation, with each pilot having leeway on how to present and expand on the established program of four one-hour instruction sessions.

Childers added a fifth one-hour session, plus the plane tour, in response to students' interest.

The program helps pilots link up with schools near where they live. The airline has an online program for schools that want to participate but do not have a Southwest pilot nearby.

"We are more than a customer-service airline, we're a community airline," Childers said, explaining Southwest's commitment to the Adopt-a-Pilot program.