Building on a track record as a career schoolteacher, an educator with the National 4-H Aerospace Curriculum project and as a co-architect of the KidVenture program at EAA in Oshkosh, Rice set out to embark on an ambitious flight to help educate hundreds of children around the world, inspiring them to learn more about aviation and to further their own knowledge on STEM topics. During her global flight, which embarks from Prescott, AZ in September of 2013, Rice and her navigator will be relying on a pair of Sennheiser S1 Digital headsets in the cockpit, as well as navigation assistance from iFlightPlanner, presented by Sennheiser. Following is a brief conversation with Captain Rice:
When did you first realize you had a passion for aviation?
I often joke, but it's very true: I was born with wings. Every moment in my life I have wished I were 'up there' instead of 'down here.' One vivid memory I have was of a hot summer night. I was really little and my bed was right next to the window. It was still light out. I was looking out the window and all of a sudden I hear this 'Whoosh!' I climbed out of bed, ran down the stairs, went out the front yard, and there was a hot air balloon going overhead. I was simply awe-struck, and all I could do was look up with my mouth open. The guy in the hot air balloon yelled down to me 'Cat got your tongue, little girl?' This was my very first memory of aviation.
When did your aviation career take off?
It wasn't until I was 40 years old when I really pursued a career in aviation. I became a schoolteacher and I focused on behavioral and learning disabilities. For over 16 years, I focused on special education, learning about the youth brain. At one point after I had been taking flying lessons, I had a very difficult time reaching one of my students. He discovered I had been taking flying lessons and I arranged for him to meet the Civil Air Patrol unit. After the meeting, this student wanted to participate with them, and they allowed it. The kid ended up being an aviation mechanic and we are still in touch. This experience helped me realize the power of aviation in the classroom, so I began establishing partnerships and creating airport youth programs.
What was the initial spark for ThinkGlobal Flight?
About ten years ago, I worked for EAA in Oshkosh and created KidVenture for them. While I was there, I met a lot of great people including Dick Rutan, who once told me, 'To inspire kids, you need to go around the world.' So the idea was kicking around my brain for a while. About five years later I really started putting a solid concept together to actually do it. Kids find flying cool and I realized this was a very powerful tool for inspiring them while providing a real-world application for learning. For kids, an application for learning is crucial so you can apply topics like mathematics, science and engineering.
What were some of the logistical elements you had to consider?
First, I needed a navigator - so I chose my first instructor. What better person to go around the world with than someone like that who you can rely on? The next step was getting an airplane, and thanks to Guidance Aviation a Cirrus SR20 was donated - this was a big thing to check off the list. Next steps were the logistics, then the expenses, and learning from the experts everything about international flying. For example, you have to have a handler on the ground that greets you, makes sure you have fuel and helps you through all the landing fees. I found that the handler is just as important as having a navigator. We are 85% there and will be ready for September.
What is entailed with the global flight route you have chosen?
There are two ways people go around the world in small airplanes. One is the northern route, over Iceland and Greenland, and the southern route, which goes over the Pacific and the Atlantic. We are leaving on the southern route. Our longest leg is Honolulu to American Samoa, which is 2,268 nautical miles. Depending on the wind, it will take approximately 15 hours and approximately 155 gallons of fuel. From America Somoa we go to Australia, and then we go through Asia. We are trying to pick places where the Think Global Flight Student Command Centers are, where we can refuel quickly and where the political atmosphere is good. Jeppesen is onboard, donating their International Trip Planning package, providing their expertise.
What role will communication play in the cockpit?
Communication in any facet of life is key: whether you are a pilot, a teacher or a plumber, it doesn't matter. Communication in the air is always a big challenge, and to help us tackle this, Sennheiser has donated a pair of S1 Digital headsets. This is an incredible headset which blocks out everything we don't want but is also extremely comfortable — in fact, I even forget that I am wearing them. For us, comfort is critical because we are going to be wearing these for more than 15 hours at a time. Aviators need to be sharp at every moment, so between the comfort and the noise canceling, we're covered.
Can you tell me about 'the button' on the S1 Digital?
The first time we flew with the S1 and put them on, my navigator and I pressed the button on the side and when it engaged, we just looked at each other in disbelief - it was amazing. Everything is more audible and clear, and the resulting noise cancellation actually protects your hearing. The Sennheiser S1 isn't just for pilots doing the long haul flights like me. Any pilot can hear better wearing them. I've forgotten how noisy it is being in flight since I've been using the S1.
Captain Judy Rice, Executive Director, Fly to Learn, will be embarking on a global flight to promote STEM education in September of 2013.
The Sennheiser S1 Digital aviation headset.
Captain Judy Rice atop her Cirrus SR20 aircraft.
Sennheiser is a world-leading manufacturer of aviation headsets, microphones, headphones and wireless transmission systems. With their top-quality acoustics, high wearing comfort and rugged designs, Sennheiser aviation headsets are suited to the needs of professional and private pilots and air-traffic controllers. Innovations such as the NoiseGard™ active noise compensation system and ActiveGard™ protect against potentially harmful volume surges.
Established in 1945 in Wedemark, Germany, Sennheiser is now a global brand represented in 60 countries around the world with U.S. headquarters in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Sennheiser's pioneering excellence in technology has rewarded the company with numerous awards and accolades including an Emmy, a Grammy, and the Scientific and Engineering Award of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
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