Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Pilot helps students soar

Tyler Barry and Katryna Niva try experiment involving Bernoulli's Principle. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

March 4, 2011 |

Southwest Airlines Capt. James Hechtl doesn’t have to keep track of the miles he flies — he’s got a classroom full of fifth-graders at St. James School on the job for that.

They have a United States map on the wall of their classroom, and as Hechtl e-mails in his locations, they mark his route with string, then calculate and log his miles.

“Ten thousand miles is the most he’s flown in one week,” reports student Michael Young.

Well, the most he’s flown in the past few weeks anyway, ever since this class “adopted” Hechtl through Southwest Airlines’ “Adopt-A-Pilot” program.

The 14-year-old program sends pilots into classrooms to teach everything from the science behind flight to geography, language arts and life values. Students, in turn, track their pilot’s journeys during the monthlong program. In addition to weekly classroom visits, Hechtl will accompany the students later this month on a tour of the Sacramento International Airport.

Hechtl is now in his second year as an adopted pilot, though he’s been flying for 28 years, first in the U.S. Air Force and now for Southwest. He says a neighbor in El Macero — who happens to teach in Elk Grove — convinced him to let her class “adopt” him two years ago. He figured if he was going to participate in the program, he might as well do it at his own kids’ school too.

So this month and last, he’s been spending an hour or so a week at St. James, where three of his own children are students — including his twins in the fourth grade, who are looking forward to participating next year.

He clearly has a rapt audience in teacher Paul Agnew’s classroom. During his visit Thursday, Hechtl and some eager volunteers took part in a few simple experiments demonstrating Bernoulli’s Principle on the relationship between air speed and pressure.

He asked students what they thought would happen if he placed a ping pong ball over an upward-blowing hair dryer. Some thought the ball would fall off to the side, others thought the moving air would carry the ball upward and hold it in place. The latter were proved right.

Other experiments made use of a balloon, a toilet paper roll and a baseball, and each experiment was followed with discussion.

Agnew, for one, appreciates what Hechtl brings to his classroom.

“It’s fun to see how enthusiastic the kids get,” Agnew said. “When he’s presenting, you can see them thinking, ‘What will it do?’ ”

Agnew is particularly looking forward to the airport tour later this month.

“When they go to the airport,” he explained, “they think it’s just a field trip. But the message is ‘We are a team … we need the ground crew, we need these people, we need those people.’ They say, ‘Oh, I thought it was just about getting on a plane.’”

Young says he’ll think about things differently next time he boards a plane.

“I’ll know how an airplane flies, and more about stuff like gravity and what pilots do,” he said.

Classmate Mimi McMahon agreed.

“He’s taught us a lot,” she said of Hechtl. “Most important was how a plane works and also how to achieve your goals.”

For his part, Hechtl says “the goal isn’t necessarily to get them involved in aviation, but just to use this as a vehicle to get them thinking about different things.”

Southwest has 835 pilots participating in the program, Hechtl said, with more than 330,000 fifth-graders having participated since Adopt-A-Pilot began in 1997.

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or (530) 747-8051. Comment on this story at



Anne Ternus-Bellamy

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .


    With collective’s help, you can fix it yourself at Bike Forth

    By Bob Schultz | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    New chemistry building in the works at UCD

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A1

    Kids get a peek at the great outdoors

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

    Heidrick Ag History Center rebranded as California Agriculture Museum

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

    BeerFest expands to include cider

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    May 11 talk focuses on clean water

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    ‘From Age-ing to Sage-ing’ guides library group

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Crossing lines, on ‘Davisville’

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    ’12 Angry Men’ will screen Friday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Pet Food Express organizes Save a Kitten fundraiser

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Retirees to hear about Woodland’s shade tree campaign

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

    Round up at the registers for Davis schools

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6Comments are off for this post

    Origami lovers will meet at library

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

    Earth-centered author comes to Avid Reader

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

    Breast cancer treatment update offered

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

    MIND Institute lecture will focus on prenatal exposure to insecticide

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

    Pence Gallery: We’re overflowing with gratitude

    By Natalie Nelson | From Page: A9 | Gallery

    Health care documentary will screen at meeting

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    Who is Ralph Hexter? Chancellor’s No. 2 fills us in

    By Tanya Perez | From Page: A10 | Gallery



    Injection wells endanger our aquifers

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4

    New book flows with good news about water

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4 | Gallery



    Aggies go flat in 7-1 Sacramento State win at Raley

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Devils crush Edison to earn McClatchy rematch

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Blue Devils grind out a victory over Oak Ridge

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Davis boys dominate first playoff match

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Alliance/Legacy roundup: Local squads fare well over the weekend

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3 | Gallery

    AYSO roundup: Davis teams capture Fog Classic crowns

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3 | Gallery





    Sac Ballet presents Modern Masters on May 8-9

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A7

    High school artists exhibited at Pence Gallery

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

    See Christian Quintin’s paintings at Hattie Weber Museum

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

    Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble returns

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A7 | Gallery

    Davis Youth Flute Choir tunes up for China tour

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8







    Comics: Wednesday, May 6, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B5