Flying Keeps Getting in My Blood

I’m back from a short vacation, tanned and rested, although the tan is fading fast.

During senior year at the University of Oklahoma, one of the classes involved tackling a problem that industry provided to us to solve. My group of three or four engineering students was assigned to a company like Cessna, only not Cessna, to work with one of their engineers in providing a method of heat for the cockpit. I didn’t think of it at the time, but this was evidently outside of the heat provided by the “mile-high” club.

After a tutorial on how the plane worked and where sources of heat could be found, we settled into designing a simple heat exchanger. It’s a pretty simple concept of flowing cold air over a hot pipe long enough to heat the cold air and then duct it into the cabin. I don’t believe we ever thought of things like controlling the airflow or the temperature. In our simple minds, the system would simply adjust itself.

The airplane engine provided the hot pipe. It just so happens the perfect pipe, unencumbered by any other equipment or piping, lay right where we needed it to be for our project. This company must have really tried to come up with a project for us. I’m sure their engineers and even their technicians and custodians could have solved this problem.

A typical tube heat exchanger

We made a few drawings of our concept and then, convinced this design would solve world hunger and garner us a magnificent award, prepared to present it to our mentor. He had to have had a few chuckles at our presentation although it did match the engineering basics for good design. I’m sure you’ve heard of the KISS principle: Keep It Simple Stupid. This one had it in spades.

As an award, or maybe a punishment, we were granted a ride on the airplane owned by this engineer. (He had to be more than an engineer; there is no way neither my co-workers nor I could ever afford our own plane. Lessons, yes, plane, no.)

Being the only woman, I sat at the co-pilot’s seat. Totally oblivious at that age that there were all kinds of ways this flight could go bad, not the least of which was the lack of a waiver should anything ‘happen’, I sat back to enjoy our flight. We took off from an Oklahoma City private airport and soon we were soaring over downtown.

The pilot encouraged me to take the wheel, to my horror and to my fellow engineers’, nestled in the back seats, disgust. I remember making a turn and looking down through the window at the high-rise buildings. Our bank angle was fairly steep; actually it was a lot steep. The pilot took over the controls, edging the nose back up so that we wouldn’t land into the penthouse of one of the buildings.

Soon after, we landed.

I don’t think they really needed that heat exchanger thing for after my first piloting experience, it was plenty hot for me.


About stemzandroses

I'm an engineer and writer with a built-in need to share my nearly 40 years of experience working in a male-dominated field with the rest of the world.
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