I was surfing the Amazon website looking for free or cheap Kindle books (being frugal) and I came across “My First Airplane Trip” (not an affiliate link). I burst out laughing and ordered it immediately.

It reminded me of a presentation I gave to the third grade class my BFF “L”‘s twin sons attended. The class was studying wind turbines. Since I work in the jet engine testing field, and many jet engines are turbines, “L” prevailed upon me to give the class a speech.

jet engine

It started off well enough. I asked the kids how many of them had been on a plane, and most of them had. I told them that jet turbine engines are like two wind turbines with a super-powered car engine between them.

If a car engine has some sort of problem, you can pull over to the side of the road and call for help. But if a jet engine has a problem while you’re 30,000 feet in the air, you can’t just pull over and call a tow truck.

The children started looking a little alarmed, so I hurried to reassure them that engines are regularly taken off the planes and tested to make sure they’re safe. That’s where I come in. I help design the equipment needed for testing oil pressure, fuel flow, air flow, vibration, and a host of other details.

Then there are other tests for extreme conditions. To test for extreme cold, the engines are run in a sealed, temperature-controlled building, or sometimes they’re tested outdoors at facilities located near the Arctic circle.

To test for flight-worthiness in storms, thousands of gallons of water are sprayed at a running engine.

To test for lightning strikes….

A wide-eyed child raised his hand. “Lightning can strike a plane”? Oh sure, but planes are built for that.

“Does the lightning strike the people too”? No, the passengers are totally safe, I reassured him.

This was not going as smoothly as I had hoped.

Sometimes the plane might hit a flock of birds, so the engine is tested by shooting dead chickens through it. Another hand goes up. “Are the birds okay?” I asked if she meant the chickens. “No, the birds that the plane hits”. I looked into her worried face. Um…well…uh, no, I’m sorry. The birds die.

I probably should have stopped there, but I had one more test to tell them about. It’s called the “blade-off” test and it shows what happens when one of the turbine blades breaks and gets sucked through the engine. Of course, it destroys the engine, but the goal is to keep the damage contained so that the body of the airplane isn’t compromised.

That part of the speech came with a video that I thought was really cool. It showed a running engine, then a  turbine blade broke, the engine started to wobble, and shrapnel flew about. Then the engine burst into flames and gushed thick, black smoke.

This is where the teacher decided that the class had taken up enough of my time.

Needless to say, “My First Airplane Trip” didn’t have any cool behind the scenes stories like that, nor any awesome video clips. Even so, it’s probably a much better introduction to flying than my presentation.

My guess is that none of those third graders are going to be begging to fly anytime soon.

Stay tuned…