Students get close look at helicopter

The children began to cheer as the MH-60S Knight Hawk from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 circled overhead. But, no one could hear them over the noise of the helicopter engine.

Around and around the Knight Hawk went looking for just the right spot to land on the rain-soaked soccer field. Would the make-shift landing zone be firm enough to put a 17,000 pound helicopter? It would have to be. The disappointment would be too much for the children to bear. After all, they had been waiting a week for the big surprise, and it finally arrived.

“There it is!,” the children shouted as they pointed to the gray helicopter flying just a few hundred feet above their heads. They waved frantically.

The students from Christ the Teacher Catholic School, a K-8 school in Glasgow, Del., were getting an air show all of their own. And they were about to get a hands-on look at one of the Navy’s newest rotary wing aircraft.

Aircrew AW1 Andy Jones peered out the side door of the Knight Hawk looking for the best place to land as pilots Capt. Steve Smith, VX-1 executive officer, and Lt. Greg Brotherton safely landed next to the schoolhouse in Glasgow, a small town just east of Elkton, Md.

The visit in late May, coordinated by AM1 Liam Morris of VX-1, was kept a secret to the children up until the moment they saw the helicopter circle overhead and land right in front of them.

“This was a complete surprise to the entire student body,” Morris said. “The only thing listed on the school calendar was ‘special event this afternoon.’”

Morris, whose daughter Tara attends the school, came up with the idea for the visit and said that it took two months to coordinate and clear through the proper channels.

After asking the VX-1 operations officer what he needed to make this happen, Morris began putting the pieces together – getting a fire truck and crew to agree to come to the site, arranging police security, forecasting weather data, site survey and permission from the school in writing among other things.

“Thankfully my cell phone bill is free long-distance,” Morris said. “I met all the requirements I was asked to meet logistically.”

Weather was the wild card that might have put a damper on the whole agenda. But despite some fog, a low ceiling and light rain, the trip was a success.

Morris began the day giving a presentation to the school on the history of aviation, providing the students with a small clue to the afternoon’s surprise visit. Morris said that he dispelled the myth that the Wright brothers invented the airplane.

“They simply put all the pieces of knowledge that other people got, put an engine on it and said ‘Let’s go,’” Morris said. “They were the first to fly a powered machine.”
Morris’ PowerPoint presentation started with the Wright brothers and went all the way to space shuttles and the Boeing 747 “jumbo” jet.

“The kids were excited all day,” said Sister LaVerne King, school principal.

That excitement grew even more as they approached the aircraft after it had set down on the soccer field. Jones and Morris lifted the children up and into the helicopter one-by-one and answered questions as the children roamed the interior of the Knight Hawk. They walked through to the other side, many in total awe. As the students jumped out, AK2 Bryan Rodriguez of VX-1 was there to catch them while Smith and Brotherton showed and explained some of the gear the aircrew wear.

“It’s important for the children to realize we have wonderful men and women making peace for us all,” said Terri Fulwider, school administrative assistant. “This is really exciting.”

The trip was exciting for more than the students and faculty of Christ the Teacher Catholic School, though. It was also an impromptu reunion for Rodriguez and his sister, whose son attends another nearby school. Rodriguez flew from Pax to Delaware for the VX-1 show-and-tell to give his sister and nephew an up-close tour of the Knight Hawk, too.

The Pioneer’s visit to the school will be a lasting memory for many of the students, according to Fulwider and King.

Sister King watched the children shuffle through the aircraft, and with a gleeful twinkle in her eye said, “These are the days they’ll remember.”

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