Chopper physics for high schoolers
May 29, 2013
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  • Physics students leaned in and inspected the tail rotor blades in the back of the Robinson R44 Raven II helicopter resting on the Clarkston High School practice fields, May 16.

    Pilot Scott Mrdeza, a commercial pilot and certified flight instructor, visited students for what he called a Flying Physics Classroom.

    “They are learning about how physics fits in with what they are learning,” said Fawn Phillips, high school physics teacher. “He has talked to them about how the different rotors move and things they keep hearing about but haven’t had a real life example.”

    The visit was scheduled to take place a few days prior but due to the weather they had to reschedule, which led to another lesson for the students.

    Phillips added they talked about the danger of flying in the air in a metal contraption when lightning and high winds are around.

    “The kids were like, okay, we get it,” she said. “They have been learning about rotation speed and how gravity affects objects in flight. They have been asking a lot of questions and I can’t demonstrate it in the classroom.”

    During the presentation, Mrdeza discussed the rotor configurations and flight controls as well as a brief history of helicopters from Chinese flying tops, the Da Vinci design and the early pioneers leading the way for today’s designs.

    He used physics concepts involved with the design of the helicopter such as Newton’s third law for relation of design; Bernolli’s principle for relation to lift; center of gravity; physics of dissymmetry of lift in main rotor system; conservation of angular momentum for rotor design; and gyroscopic precession for reaction of forces.

    He also discussed and showed them the aerodynamics involved with the helicopter.

    “The misconception is if the engine goes out you will die,” he said demonstrating on a model helicopter on what really happens with physics and gravity. “The helicopter acts like a pinwheel and the air is going through the blades. It’s very maneuverable and flyable. You just can’t land where you want to.”

    He also demonstrated what happens when the helicopter rolls over and where the center of mass was located. He pointed out the difference in a helicopter with two blades versus multiple blades.

    After the presentation, the students took closer looks at the helicopter before the helicopter took off.

    They moved back and watched as the helicopter lifted into the air – not only watching it in action but the physics involved and taking in all the aspects such as the wind and weather.

    Parent Brad Bur approached Phillips with the flying class for the students could understand the physics involved.