This is the time when I reflect upon my brief but exciting career as an aerospace engineer.
At the Science Olympiad, teams of kids compete in events with inscrutable names like Grab a Gram, Cranium Command and Estimania.
Last year, they included a new event: Propellor Propulsion.
“Students will build an airplane constructed of wood and paper. The airplane will be propellor driven. The sole source of energy will be one rubber band.”
My daughter was selected for the Propellor Propulsion team. I was selected, by default, as a parent adviser.
I could fold a paper airplane — a very basic paper airplane — but that was about it.
The competition would be judged on flight time, which meant we needed a lightweight plane. We would have to build our own.
I recruited a retired airline pilot to help.
I Googled tips on the dihedral angle of wings, relative weights of plastic propellers, and lubricating the rubber motor. (At this point, I had to doublecheck that this was indeed a competition for children.)
The airline pilot spent $100 on three airplane kits. He cut tiny pieces of balsa wood and glued them to tissue paper. Me? I would occasionally hold something while it dried.
Once we made a propeller out of balsa wood. We were supposed to shape the blades by soaking the wood in water, then wrapping it around a plastic bottle and drying it in a warm oven. We didn’t have an oven, so we used the microwave in the teachers’ lounge. We melted the plastic bottle.
I soon realized that this event had little to do with science, per se. The kids were not learning about drag and lift. They were learning how to use an X-Acto knife without cutting off their fingers or stabbing each other.
Two days before the Olympiad, the kids had four planes built. They tested them in the gym after school. All four broke within 20 minutes.
The science teacher and the kids went back to work. The day of the Olympiad, they had two working planes.
Before the contest began, all the planes were displayed on a long table. I took stock of the competition. I started to notice rules violations. Hey, those wings shouldn’t be attached to the motor stick with rubber bands!
I took notes. I was determined to have those planes disqualified if necessary.
What was happening to me? I had turned into a low-down, dirty snitch.
Each team got two launches. Our team’s first launch was a false start, and was disqualified.
The second launch, the plane flew. It flew longer than any yet. It flew straight. It banked left. It crashed into the bleachers.
I grabbed the arm of a dad I’d never met before and jumped up and down, screaming.
They won second place.
And me? I had turned into, not a soccer mom, but a science mom.