When Rory Hansen was in the fifth grade, he got his picture made standing next to a warplane. The moment stuck with him and as he watched his father’s career as a pilot, he grew more enamored with the field of aviation.
“I never thought about doing anything else,” he said. “It just seemed like the neatest thing in the world.”
Now a Southwest pilot himself, Hansen tries to instill the same sense of wonder to the next generation.
Recently, Hansen visited with Wayne Gorry’s fifth-grade class at Julia Randall Elementary School through the Adopt-A-Pilot program sponsored by Southwest Airlines.
Hansen is one of 800 pilots that visited with fifth-grade students across the country for four weeks.
The program gives pilots a chance to discuss their job and the science of flight, but more importantly, help students realize the importance of staying in school and developing positive life values.
Curriculum for the program emphasizes F.L.I.G.H.T. — fearlessness, leadership, imagination, gratitude, honesty and tenacity.
Hansen discovered students loved the program.
They especially enjoyed watching Hansen’s homemade movies, which detailed various aspects of commercial flight operation.
In one video, Hansen mounted a camera to a plane’s windshield, capturing take-off, taxi and flying over various landmarks.
Hansen also interviews various employees, including a baggage handler, flight attendant, mechanic and gate attendant about what their job entails and if they had ever seen anything weird while working.
One flight attendant recounted the time a hamster got out of a child’s backpack and ran around the plane in flight until someone finally scooped it up.
A baggage handler described the time a man dropped his dentures down the toilet and demanded Southwest retrieve them. The worker put on protective gear and retrieved the teeth from the tanks. Upon handing the teeth over, the man rinsed them off and put them back in his mouth.
For Hansen, flying in inclement weather is always exciting. With fog, Hansen often lands a plane using only instruments, he showed this in another video.
But for Hansen, who flew an A-7 attack aircraft as a Navy pilot, and has flown 27 years for Southwest, inclement weather is nothing.
Beyond the videos, Hansen used hands-on aviation-related lessons to discuss the science of flight, geography and creative writing.
In one activity, students used maps to figure the mileage for Hansen’s trip from Phoenix to San Diego to Las Vegas and back to Phoenix.
Students also learned about time zones, the Bernoulli principle and researched a city they would like to visit.
From the road, Hansen sent students e-mails detailing where he was flying and what he had seen. For example, in Seattle, Hansen wrote about a tour he took of the city’s underground.
“The kids really seemed to enjoy it,” he said. “My favorite part was seeing the kids enthusiasm and interest.”
Hansen spent 94 hours working on the program. For every 40 hours a pilot volunteers, Southwest donates a ticket.
Although not a Southwest pilot, furloughed Mesa Airlines pilot Ben Pearson helped Hansen in class.
On the last day of Hansen’s and Pearson’s visit, students received a graduation certificate and presented what job or degree they hoped to have — unfortunately, none said they wanted to be a pilot.