Celebrating 50 Years of NCATE Accreditation
Andrew McClellan normally teaches earth science and biology at a high school in Loudoun County. These days the 1997 Longwood graduate is still teaching but has temporarily traded in his classroom for a new $311 million classroom that is part of the world's most visited museum.
McClellan is one of three Northern Virginia teachers selected as "Aerospace Educators" for the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, near Dulles Airport, which is a companion facility to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum. On Tuesdays through Fridays from early October through early June, he teaches one of five different programs, called "learning labs," for students in grades 3-12. His two-year stint began July 1, 2003 and runs through July 1, 2005, when he'll return to the Loudoun County school system. Another educator was chosen from the Fairfax County schools and the third is from the Potomac School, a private school in McLean.
"Basically, I'm lecturing in a $300 million classroom, which
I love," says McClellan, whose wife, Karen, also is a 1997 Longwood alum who teaches in Loudoun County. "We consider this ‘America's hangar.'"
McClellan, nicknamed "Buzz Lightyear" by his students for his resemblance to the Disney character, works in the Udvar-Hazy Center's Claude Moore Education Center, located on the lower level between the entrance (on the upper level) and the main hangar. He discussed his work while leading an interviewer on a tour in mid-July.
"The Claude Moore Education Center is a mini-school within the museum that creates school programming relevant to the public schools' curriculum," he says. "We teach aerospace classes in three multi-media classrooms, one of which has a video camera for videoconferencing and distance learning, and use the museum as an excellent visual aid. Gone are the days when a student thinks a field trip is a day off. We want this to be like school, but more fun. The students leave their school and come into an even larger school. Our main goal here, as we say, is to ‘educate, commemorate and inspire.' We can't do a huge amount of education in an hour and a half, but we can inspire them.
"On a typical day, students arrive here when we open at 10 and are divided into four or five groups, depending on their size," he says. "We typically get one school group of 120 to 150 students per day. We limit each classroom to 30 students and teach the same lesson in each room. Meanwhile, other sections of the same school-group take a tour of the museum, led by a docent, then everyone has lunch, and then we switch the groups. They're usually here from 10 to 2."
The learning labs are titled Paper Airplane Design and The Wright Brothers and the Process of Invention (grades 3-8), International Space Station and Current Events – Missions to Mars (grades 4-9), and Forces of Flight (grades 6-12).
The Udvar-Hazy (pronounced Ood-var Hah-zee) Center, which opened Dec. 15, 2003, will enable the National Air and Space Museum to display nearly all of the national flight collection, with 80 percent ultimately being at the new location. None of that will come from the flagship building on the National Mall in Washington, where only 10 percent of the collection is displayed. Before the Udvar-Hazy Center opened, most of the National Air and Space Museum's collection had to be kept in storage at various facilities. The Center, which can accommodate artifacts too large for the flagship building, is located on 176 acres on the southeast corner of Dulles Airport property, two miles south of the airport entrance, near the intersection of routes 28 and 50.
"Eventually this building will contain 760,000 square feet of space," McClellan says. "The main hangar is the length of three football fields and is one football field wide and 10 stories tall at the top of the hangar. One thing we tell kids is that the Wright brothers' first flight could be repeated eight times down the length of the hangar. We can fit 16,000 people into this building. Each of these arch-shaped trusses overhead can hold 22,000 pounds, which is far more than we need to hold. The trusses were made to resemble the trusses that hold the solar panels on the International Space Station."
Unlike traditional museum galleries, the Udvar-Hazy Center displays artifacts in an open, hangar-like setting. The main section, called the aviation hangar, contains three levels of aircraft: two levels suspended from the building's 21 steel trusses and a third on the floor. The suspended planes have been hung in their typical flight patterns – an acrobatic plane hangs upside-down, a World War II fighter plane points nose upward, a small two-seater flies level. Catwalks, called "Skywalks," rising about four stories above the floor (one is called the bridge; the other, slightly higher, is the mezzanine) provide nose-to-nose views of aircraft in suspended flight.
"The majority of our space is not on the floor; it's in the airspace," says McClellan. "Because there are three levels of hanging space for aircraft, you can see them from the ground up, from eye level and looking down. You get a different perspective of this place every time you look around, and you can really get up close and personal with these planes."
Larger aircraft enter the Center through two huge panel-like doors at one end of the main hangar. Most are brought in on tractor-trailers through two doors inside the door to the right – which, viewed from the skywalk near the entrance, doesn't seem big enough to accommodate a tractor-trailer, due to the building's deceptive size. "Trust me," said McClellan, smiling, "those doors are big enough to drive a tractor-trailer through. We take the wings off and lay them on the fuselage and put the plane on the truck."
The aviation hangar has 82 aircraft and eventually will be home to 220. Its artifacts include the Enola Gay, the B-29 World War II bomber that dropped the world's first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan; the Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird, the world's fastest jet-powered aircraft; the Space Shuttle Enterprise; and, clustered together, three generations of commercial jets: the Boeing 307 (the first airliner with a pressurized fuselage, first used in 1940), a prototype of the Boeing 707 (America's first commercial jet, introduced in 1954), and the supersonic Concorde, made by Air France, which cruised at twice the speed of sound and retired last year.
The sharp nose of the sleek SR-71A Blackbird, used as a spy plane during the Cold War, greets visitors as they approach the main hangar. "From 85,000 feet up, which was its cruising altitude, this could take a photograph of a golf ball on a golf course," McClellan says. "It was made of titanium, instead of aluminum like nearly all other planes, because titanium is lightweight, flexible and strong enough to withstand a tremendous amount of heat." On its final flight, from Los Angeles to Dulles Airport in 1990, which took only 64 minutes and 20 seconds, it set a transatlantic speed record by averaging 2,124 miles per hour, more than three times the speed of sound.
The Enola Gay was brought there in 12 tractor-trailer loads in March 2003 from a Smithsonian storage facility in Suitland, Md., near Washington, where it had been completely restored. It was then assembled at the Udvar-Hazy Center and in August that year was unveiled for the first time since being disassembled in 1960. Its wingspan, 141 feet, seems surprisingly long.
"It may have the longest wingspan of anything in here," says McClellan. "It was the most advanced bomber of its day. It was the first bomber to house its crew in a pressurized cabin, and it had advanced bomb-sights and remote-controlled gun turrets. Its wheels are up on jacks so people can look into the cockpit. "
Jutting out from one side of the main hangar is the smaller space hangar, which opened in October and has 135 spacecraft. The Enterprise and two space capsules, from the Mercury and Gemini programs, stood near the entrance in July. The Enterprise was never put into orbit but rather was used by NASA in 1977-79 for approach and landing test flights in the atmosphere. "They would take it up on a 747 to about 58,000 feet and drop it so they could test its glide ability," McClellan says. "Visitors have been able to watch it being restored."
The Center also has a 479-seat IMAX theater (the screen is six stories high), a 164-foot-high observation tower (from which visitors can view two of Dulles Airport's runways and the Blue Ridge Mountains), and a 3-D flight simulator. Future plans include a restoration hangar, from which visitors will be able to watch (through glass walls) planes being restored, and an archives center and restoration lab, all of which will be attached to the space hangar. The facility, built exclusively with private funds, was named for the president and CEO of International Lease Finance Corp., who donated $65 million. Udvar-Hazy, who lives in Los Angeles, is himself a pilot and founded his first airline-related business as a sophomore at UCLA, only seven years after coming to the United States from Hungary. The Center's opening was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first fight. "We had over 22,000 students from February through June in the school program, and total visitorship reached one million in June," says McClellan.
Planes landing at Dulles pass right in front of the Udvar-Hazy Center. "When one of those 747s flies by, you feel like you could reach right out and grab it," McClellan said while being photographed outside.
He is proud of the "Mars Yard," a project that his school did for the Center, with him supervising, that simulates the work being done on Mars with camera-equipped, six-wheeled robots called Mars Exploration Rovers. The 10-foot by 10-foot yard, directly in front of the entrance to the Claude Moore Education Center, resembles a sandbox.
"Carnegie Mellon University gave us two replicas of the Rovers and related equipment, and we created the yard to teach kids about the Rovers," he says. "We simulate here what they're doing on Mars. The Rover is commanded by students in one of our classrooms, which we call Mission Control. Through a computer in that classroom, students there can see what the Rover is seeing, and they test a rock for signs of ‘life.' The yard is made of layers of foam stacked on top of one another to match the topography of the Mars Pathfinder landing site, with stucco on top of that to give it texture. The project involved earth science, art and tech-ed teachers and students. Another Loudoun County high school built an identical Mars Yard at the main National Air and Space Museum. They're used both by school groups and by the general public."
In 2002 McClellan was chosen the Outstanding Earth Science Teacher of the Year in Virginia. He and his wife, who was Karen McComb when she attended Longwood,
live in Leesburg with their son Henry Robert, born Aug. 7. Karen teaches math at Harper Park Middle School in Leesburg. The entire 6th grade from her school, all 420 of them, visited the Udvar-Hazy Center for its Space Day in May. Four days before the public opening last December, McClellan attended a glitzy invitation-only dedication, where guests included Vice President Cheney, Chief Justice Rehnquist, Paul Tibbetts, who flew the Enola Gay (named for his mother) when it dropped the A-bomb on Hiroshima, Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, Udvar-Hazy, and actor John Travolta, an aviation enthusiast.
"When I leave here, I'll be replaced by someone else from the Loudoun County schools. As long as this museum is open, there will be a Loudoun County school employee here. This relationship benefits the school system, the kids, everyone."