“What I did last summer” is taking on a new dimension at Saint Martin of Tours School in Philadelphia this season as ten eighth graders prepare to go back to class and describe their experiences at helicopter camp.
According to a story posted by reporter Kathy Boccella on the Philadelphia Enquirer website on August 13, this camp experience was not just a joyride. Instead, the students participated in an intensive technical experience that kept them engrossed for an entire week.
The crowning event of the camp was a series of flights over the students’ school and Northeast Philly in a Leonardo AW139, which is touted as the “. . . market-leading intermediate twin-engine helicopter” on the Leonardo website. This high-tech chopper is assembled at Leonardo’s Philadelphia plant and costs corporations and countries $10 – $12 million to purchase.
For some of the students participating in the camp, this was not only their first flight in a helicopter but also their first in any aircraft. Ms. Boccella recounts in her Enquirer article that at least two of them had issues with their first-ever feelings of flight. One student said he came close to getting sick during the flight, and another reported a scary, falling sensation when the helicopter turned and dipped.
For most of the students, though, the entire experience was a blast, from their first day when they went through mock job interviews in the personnel department, to the intensive preflight briefing they received before taking turns handling the AW139’s flight controls.
Ms. Boccella reports in her Enquirer article that during this latter exercise the “giant” rotors were “. . . turned off, of course,” and the copter never left the ground. In every other way, the helicopter was the same as is “. . . used by Air Force pilots from Italy to the United Arab Emirates.”
Leonardo is an international helicopter manufacturing firm which is known locally as AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corporation, where it employs more than 500 people. While the helicopter design work is done at Leonardo corporate locations, its Philadelphia plant is a full-fledged, final assembly facility.
As such, the students had a chance to see how all the thousands of parts, processes, and components – and the human knowledge and skills behind them – combine to put a modern helicopter into a state of airworthiness.
Bill Hunt, President of the Philly facility, feels strongly about the value of merging bookwork with how the studies are applied. He indicated that the helicopter camp is a method of grounding the learning for the campers by making it practical.
In the course of learning about the real-world side of manufacturing and assembly, the ten students experienced a universe of options. The briefings, lectures, and demonstrations they attended spanned a variety of subjects, including Administration, Assembly Line, Avionics, Contract Management, Customer Support, Engineering, Import-Export, Inventory, Maintenance, Pilots, Production Control, Public Relations, Sales, and Training.
One teacher who accompanied the students felt that the variety of subjects discussed with the kids is why they loved it so much. There was something of interest for everyone.
When the kids give their reports back at Saint Martin of Tours School, no doubt most of the questions from their youthful audience will be about what it’s like to fly in a helicopter. That’s the most dramatic thing that was done during the camp, even though it conceals within it a more important message.
Over time, that broader message will seep out, and those ten Heli-Campers will be able to convey the intricate web of science, technology, engineering, math, learning, practical savvy and human cooperation that make that helicopter plant — just twelve short air miles from their school — run.