PALMDALE — Students in the 2023 Junior Test Pilot Summer Program closed out their week Thursday with a presentation by Art Thompson on the Red Bull Stratos jump and a visit from Assemblyman Tom Lackey.
The free summer program offered science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education and career development for more than 500 students over six weeks. The program was developed by the Flight Test Historical Foundation, the nonprofit organization that funds and operates the Air Force Flight Test Museum at Edwards Air Force Base.
The program ran from June 12 to July 20 at Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale and the Flight Test Museum on Edwards Air Force Base. Students from the Eastside Union, Mojave Union, Muroc Joint Union and Lancaster school districts participated. Lancaster School District students attend the final four days of the program.
The students’ daily schedule began with a “mission” where the children toured the airpark and learned the basics of their daily STEM theme by analyzing different aircraft. They devoted classroom time to interactive lessons and hands-on activities. Each day there was a volunteer speaker from the local aerospace industry to discuss their jobs, career paths and STEM principles in their work.
The purpose was to expose the children to as many careers in aerospace as possible and describe a personal experience and/or path to reach those careers.
The City of Palmdale also opened Joe Davies’ Heritage Airpark every morning so the children could go on their “missions.”
The program curriculum was developed by Lisa Sheldon Brown, the director of Education and Community Relations for the Flight Test Historical Foundation, and is entirely funded by the foundation through donations from Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp.
“Our volunteers offer their time to talk about their careers and are as important as the STEM learning for these children,” Brown said. “Most of the children in our community do not have friends or family in aerospace, and many are not exposed to the amazing career opportunities right in their backyard. We have women and men from a variety of fields every summer, and this program provides early career exposure to the children in our valley.”
Summer program director Brianna Sanders talked Thursday morning about sonic booms and the different types of aircraft during the hour-long instructional period. She showed the students a video about NASA’s X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology demonstrator, which is designed to fly at supersonic speeds without generating a loud sonic boom that would disrupt people on the ground.
“In November, you might see it flying around out here,” Sanders said.
Sanders also covered stealth technology, payloads and the space shuttle program, which included a video about the program.
Thompson, who serves as chairman of the foundation’s board of directors, changed a little bit of his talk to expand on the space shuttle program.
“All the space shuttles were built here,” he said. “They were built in the building right down the street.”
He added that space shuttles landed at Edwards Air Force Base about 50 times.
“The reason Edwards Air Force Base Flight Test Center is so significant is because there was one plane, the first plane to fly, which was Kitty Hawk, right, the Wright Brothers, and people go to that because that was so significant, the very first plane,” Thompson said. “The very first of everything else occurred here, locally; it occurred out at Edwards Air Force Base.”
Thompson also talked Stealth Technology and his companies, Sage Cheshire Aerospace Inc. and A2ZFX Inc., which makes the Red Bull Mini Cooper “can” car. He showed a few viral videos the company made, talked about some of their projects and also showed a video of the Red Bull Stratos jump, which was done on Oct. 14, 2012, by Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner.
Thompson served a technical director for the Red Bull Stratos jump. Baumgartner stepped from a capsule designed and constructed at Sage Cheshire. They did bungee jump testing at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds with a 250-foot tall crane.
“We attached a bungee to Felix and the spacesuit and we had him practice jumping off,” Thompson said.
They also practiced with wind tunnels.
“Take advantage of learning everything you can now because it’s going to carry you through life, what you learn and what you’re inspired of,” Thompson said. “And remember that you can do anything. You’ll capable of doing anything. You never take no as an answer because there’s always a way to make it work.”
Thompson encouraged the students to think outside of the box.