Too much hot air for 'flight day' in Amesbury

·3 min read

Jun. 11—AMESBURY — A group of Amesbury Middle School eighth graders got a memorable lesson in science and physics Wednesday when they tried to greet a flying teacher with hot air balloons.

The eighth grade orange team has been working with math coach Jennifer Donais on a "flight day" project designed to teach students the mechanics of flight.

"We wanted to do something hands-on," Donais said. "Students haven't been able to do any hands-on projects this year."

Donais is also an education member of the Civil Air Patrol. She had made a flight over the middle school in a single engine plane in late 2019 and she did it again on Wednesday, but with fifth grade special education teacher Abbie Smith at the plane's controls.

Eighth grade science teacher Greg Cook was back on the ground with his students, preparing miniature hot air balloons for takeoff to greet Donais and Smith.

"They built their own hot air balloons for this project," Cook said. "They also learned about air pressure and how to use aeronautical maps. We are setting up these hot air balloons and will hopefully set them up to fly down the field."

Cook's students were aided in their efforts to fill the balloons with butane by members of the Civil Air Patrol on Wednesday. But the results in the day's afternoon heat were not spectacular.

"There's a lot of heat going on here right now so that really makes a difference when you're trying to launch a hot air balloon," eighth grader Spencer Gafey said. "And we will learned that it really doesn't work when it is hot out today."

Donais and Smith circled the middle school three times at an elevation of 1,000 feet while their students tried unsuccessfully to launch their hot air balloons.

"Unfortunately, because of all of the heat in the air, you can't get enough heat differential built up to get the balloon to fly like we hoped it would," Civil Air Patrol Lt. Col. Paul Watterson said. "But we did a lot of projects today about how planes fly and aircraft maintenance."

Failure is the best teacher, according to Donais.

"We always learn from experience and, when everything works out, what do we learn from that?" she said. "This is something that the kids will remember more, I think. It was a STEM challenge and those don't always work. So, they now have to think about what they can do that will change the situation."

She said that she hopes to try flying the hot air balloons once again on Friday but this time with the aid of hair dryers.

Lindsey Williamson said she had hoped that Smith could have "done a loop de loop" in her plane for she and her fellow students on Wednesday.

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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