Imaginations Take To The Air

Payson pilot uses paper airplanes and a video to give ambitions of fifth-graders wings

Yadira Felix and Arielie O’Connor look on as Caitlin Gann launches her airplane in a paper airplane contest.

Photo by Andy Towle. |

Yadira Felix and Arielie O’Connor look on as Caitlin Gann launches her airplane in a paper airplane contest.


It takes a village to raise a child.

~ African proverb

Although they have no children of their own, Rory and Donna Hansen volunteer their time to teach fifth-graders in Wayne Gorry’s Julia Randall Elementary (JRE) classroom about flying airplanes for a living and the importance of reaching dreams through education and positive personal values.


Jason Lyons takes aim with his paper-clipped, self-designed paper airplane, hoping to go the distance in Julia Randall Elementary School teacher Wayne Gorry’s class, where a guest speaker talked about careers flying airplanes.

Rory works as a pilot for Southwest Airlines. The company has an “Adopt A Pilot” program for fifth-grade classes. More than 1,000 pilots nationwide spend four weeks a year teaching kids the F.L.I.G.H.T. curriculum.

F.L.I.G.H.T. stands for fearlessness, leadership, imagination, gratitude, honesty and tenacity. The program teaches fifth-graders science, math, geography, writing, and presentation skills through a set of fun exercises.

For years, Rory wanted to teach the four-week program, but he felt he did not have the time to do the program justice until last year when he shed some work responsibilities and found Gorry’s classroom, said his wife Donna.

On this Wednesday, his second week of teaching the Adopt-A-Pilot curriculum, Rory sets up his lesson to teach the kids the aerodynamics of airplanes by having them make paper airplanes, which he plans on having them fly in the hallway in a contest to determine whose design flies the farthest.

“Are you ready to make paper airplanes?” he asks the 30 children in Gorry’s class.

“Yeah!” they yell in unison.

Most of the children do not have regular exposure to airplanes and the world of flying like Rory did. His father was a World War II pilot who became a corporate pilot after a brief stint with United Airlines. Rory grew up around airplanes and never thought of doing anything else with his life, said Donna.

“Rory’s father first took him up in a plane when he was 2,” said Donna, “He fell asleep on that first flight, but he always knew he would be a pilot when he grew up.”

Rory hopes his love of flight rubs off on these fifth-graders.

He hands out pieces of paper, which the kids busily fold into paper airplanes. Rory gives suggestions from the head of the classroom on ways to fold the paper. Then he gives out a paper clip to add weight, which gives him the chance to discuss the importance of lifting the nose of the plane for aerodynamics.

The kids add their own flair to the project by decorating the wings with designs.

“I have four people on this side, and I drew one fat one on the other side to balance out the plane,” said one of Gorry’s students.

Rory and Southwest created this introduction to the world of flying to inspire children to become pilots or work in the airline industry.

“Last year, no one expressed an interest in flying as a pilot, but this year one boy said he wants to be a co-pilot,” said Donna.

Traditionally, careers in skilled industries rely on apprenticeships. Sitting in a classroom talking about the theory of flying a plane has little practical application once a pilot sits behind the controls of an airplane. The Adopt-A-Pilot program uses hands-on exercises to add relevance to the lesson.

After building and decorating their planes, Gorry, Donna and Rory take the class to the hallway placing a strip of tape on the floor.


Southwest Airlines pilot Rory Hansen demonstrates paper airplane folding technique during a presentation to Julia Randall Elementary School fifth-graders.

“Stand behind this line and don’t step over it when you throw your plane,” said Rory, “Keep the nose up to give the plane lift. This will be a practice toss and then we’ll be in competition.”

The kids chat excitedly as they jockey to line up. One little boy kisses his plane telling it, “You can do this,” before he makes an impressive toss. His plane flies 10 feet down the hallway.

Even Gorry gets into the act making a good go of a plane he folded himself.

Turns out, Price won the plane-tossing contest.

“Price got the farthest throw,” said Rory, “We have prize for you.”

Price opens the bag, “It’s a Frisbee! Another thing to fly!”

Rory ends the day with a movie he filmed and edited by himself. The movie shows what he does to prepare for lift off. He interviews some of the ground crew and walks the kids through the pre-flight check list he and the co-pilot go over before lift off. Donna passes out little bags of pretzels from the snack stash of the airline.

“They sent us these snacks,” she said, “We thought they would be perfect for a movie snack.”

The kids thought so too.

“Sweet! Airplane food!” said one.

At the end of the entertaining and educational film, which included songs such as Sinatra’s “Come Fly with Me” and showed the plane checking its flaps and rudders, making the children clap and laugh.


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