Altamont, Apr. 3, 2014

Regardless of what the weather looks like outside, it really is spring. At least, according to the calendar it is. However, we usually think of spring as a time to walk outside and feel the warm breeze blowing gently through the trees, smell the flowers as they begin to resurface after a long winters nap and listen to the birds as they sing their songs while making their nests in which to lay their eggs.

As the birds flit and fly around gathering the building materials for their new home their flight has caused many people to wonder, “How do birds stay aloft and how can we duplicate this amazing feat?”

Birdwatchers love to see different species of migrating birds as they travel from one part of the world to another. They count the numbers, and really rejoice when they find a species that is different from any they have seen before. An exciting walk for many birders is when they see a bit of color dart across their path and with binoculars they spot that first bird of spring.

Later, they will look for the homes that have been built and watch the feeding and breeding habits of the birds that have been located. Flight is the main mode of locomotion used by most of the world’s bird species. The birders will also jump with glee as a bird avoids one of its predators by flying away.

The fundamentals of bird flight are similar to those of aircraft, which has caused people to study the mechanics of bird flight, with emphasis on the varied forms of bird’s wings. The specifics of hovering, take-off and landing are also often examined.

What really amazes me is watching a bird soaring above the trees looking for a small animal ready to swoop down and pick it up for dinner. They look so graceful floating on a slight wind as if they did not weigh anything at all and could stay up there forever. As they slowly circle around you can almost feel them looking at the ground with a slight tilt of their head from one side to the other. Then with a quick flap of the wings it may change position, fold its wings and dive like a rock toward a prey it sighted from aloft. With another back flap of its wings the bird puts on its brakes, reaches out with its talons and grabs a field mouse whose hapless action caused his demise by poking its head out from its hiding place.

Many boys and girls know that they cannot fly but enjoy folding a sheet of paper to make an airplane that will, hopefully, go a greater distance, fly in circles, or stay aloft longer than the ones made by their peers. If the plane catches a breeze it might stay aloft for a few minutes, but if not it could be a short flight to its destination.

My husband, Jim and I were talking about birds, paper planes and flying as well as how our time in life makes a big difference in what we study and how we proceed with that study.

As an example, the origin of folded paper gliders is generally considered to be from ancient China, although there is equal evidence that the refinement and development of folded gliders also took place in Japan.

The pioneers of powered flight have all studied paper model aircraft in order to design larger machines. Da Vinci wrote of the building of a model plane out of parchment, and testing some his early ornithopter (an aircraft that flies by flapping wings), and parachute designs using paper models. Other pioneers, such as, Prof. Charles Langley, and Alberto Santos-Dumont often tested ideas with paper as well as balsa models to confirm their theories before putting them into practice.

The Wright Brothers were two of seven children. Wilbur was born near Millville, Indiana, in 1867; Orville in Dayton, Ohio, in 1871. The brothers never married and in elementary school, Orville was given to mischief and was once expelled. 

In 1878 their father, who traveled often as a bishop in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, brought home a toy helicopter for his two younger sons. The device was based on an invention of French aeronautical pioneer Alphonse Pénaud. Made of paper, bamboo and cork with a rubber band to twirl its rotor, it was about a foot long. Wilbur and Orville played with it until it broke, and then built their own. In later years, they pointed to their experience with the toy as the initial spark of their interest in flying.

The most significant use of paper models in aircraft designs were by the Wright Brothers between 1899 and 1903, the date of the first powered flight from Kill Devil Hills, by the Wright Flyer. The Wrights used a wind tunnel to gain knowledge of the forces, which could be used to control an aircraft in flight. They built numerous paper models, and tested them within their wind tunnel. Their paper models were very important in the process of moving on to progressively larger models, kites, gliders and ultimately on to the powered Flyer (in conjunction with the development of lightweight petrol engines). In this way, the paper model plane remains a very important key in the graduation from model to manned heavier-than-air flight.

Jim noted that paper and balsa model planes were very popular when he was a boy. Some of his experiences made it a natural extension from observation to working with planes. During the Second World War aircrafts were slow enough that the cockpit could remain open while the plane was in the air. Their ability to fly fast or at great heights was not yet developed. For that same reason the planes could be identified from the ground and all of his friends had “spotter cards” which showed a silhouette of all foreign and American airplanes. Occasionally there would be an air raid drill with planes flying over dropping crepe paper streamers. People would be asked to retrieve them and report their location to the Air Raid Warden who would report to headquarters. A red streamer meant a hit and fire, a white streamer was a miss.

With aircraft so important to the war and being able to see and hear them from the ground it was only natural that boys would want to play with planes. Jim said that there were planes of all models, stick construction with paper covering as well as solid body balsa models.

Today, planes are much larger, travel faster and can hardly be seen from the ground. People who are interested in modeling are more likely to build a jet plane or an automobile. However, there are some dedicated modelers who build large radio controlled aircraft. Judge Neil Taber is one person who has flown planes for years. With today’s technology some people fly Helicopters or even stealth hovercrafts. 

People are always trying to find ways to fly. Now we have hang gliders, an ultra-light craft for one person. The really adventurous pioneers today, with lots and lots of money, are even jumping from high elevation balloons. New technologies are even making it possible to take a flight into outer space. Soon we will have a shuttle rocket to a public base in space.

It is always wonderful to see where we have come from. It is even more exciting to guess where we will be going in the future. Where would you like to go, farther into space, to the bottom of the ocean, or into the core of earth?

Yearbook deadline

The deadline to order Altamont Elementary School’s yearbook is May 2. Information can be  obtained by calling  Ruth Anne Burby at 861-5892.

Progress reports

 Farnsworth Middle School progress reports for the third quarter are posted in the School Tool for your viewing. Questions should be directed to your child’s respective teacher if you have questions or comments.

GPA letters

Guilderland High School Juniors are reminded that they can stop in at the guidance counseling department to pick up their unofficial junior year grade-point.

District deputy visit

Master Masons are invited to the official visit of the R. W. Robert Baker Jr., District Grand Master of the Albany Masonic District on Monday, April 14.  The visit will be held at the Albany Masonic Temple at 7:30 p.m.

The District Grand Master and staff officer will be honored at a dinner at the Fort Orange Club.  Cocktails will be at 5:30 p.m., with dinner served at 6 p.m. 

Reservations can be made with Eric  J. Benson at .


Happy-anniversary wishes are extended to Diana and Bruce Shank who will celebrate their special day on April 5.


Happy-birthday wishes are extended to:

— Carson Adams, April Donato, Joanna Elario, and Mike Wilford on April 4;

— Quinn Michael Smith and Yvette Terplak on April 6;

— Mary Elario, Stewart Linendoll, Billy Usher, and Daniel Walsh on April 7;

— Sara Glennon, Samantha Holmberg, Judy Munroe, and Diane Van Alstyne on April 8;

— Amy Edwards and Daniel Zinski on April 9; and

— Erika Drake, Claire LaFleche,  Kevin McClintock, Luke Munroe and John Sands on April 10.