PRIEST RIVER — Each crew member on a flight deck has a job to do, and the colors they wear help delineate what that job is.
Priest River Elementary fifth-grader Jayda Storro, for example, wore yellow as she signaled to her classmate and drone pilot Parker Bradbury, who wore a black vest over a white shirt, that he was ready for takeoff.
All of the kids in Chris Naccarato’s fifth-grade class made a colorful crew of yellow, green, blue, purple, white and black during the Nov. 8 drone event at PRE. Each wore a hat, vest and long-sleeve shirt in the color specific to their position on the flight deck.
“The vests like they are wearing are called float coats,” Naccarato said. “You could get blown of the side of the deck really easily from from a jet blast or whatever else … so if you hit the water, it will immediately turn into a life vest.”
The kids, of course, were not really on a flight deck on the ocean, so they were in no danger of that happening. Therefore, their vests were not actual float coats, only a representation of such gear.
Each year, Naccarato teaches aviation studies for the first semester, and space flight in the second half of the year, hosting a big event to go with each. The space flight studies culminate in a space day event complete with the launching of several rockets. For the fall event, however, Naccarato said he typically uses paper airplanes for the aviation portion.
This was the first year the drone event took the place of the paper airplanes, due to a grant from the Idaho STEM Action Center.
“It’s a really cool thing that they did for a lot of teachers throughout the state,” Naccarato said.
The “Ready, Set, Drones!” grant supplied $2,575 for the drone package, as well as funds for training. Naccarato attended the drone training at North Idaho College over the summer.
So it was “out with the old and in with the new,” Naccarato said of implementing the drone event at PRE.
Shortly after Naccarato started teaching at PRE in 1992, he started NACA — National Astronaut in the Classroom Association. He has been holding the aeronautical events each year since, and invites astronauts to join them.
Astronaut and motivational speaker, Col. Mike Mullane, was Naccarato’s guest for the inaugural drone event, speaking to the entire school before two pilots from the Spokane FPV drone racing league kicked off the flying action.
Mullane knew from a young age that he wanted to someday go to space. He was serving in Vietnam, he said, when Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon in 1969.
“I desperately wanted someday to be a part of that, to be an astronaut,” Mullane said. “But I knew it was never going to happen ... I wasn’t a pilot because of my bad eyesight, and you had to be a pilot to be an astronaut.”
In 1977, however, NASA changed the rules and being a pilot was no longer required. It was 10 years after Mullane thought his dream of becoming an astronaut was over that he was selected for a mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery.
“Very important life lesson here kids,” Mullane told the PRE students. “The only reason I became an astronaut is because for 10 years I did my best when I didn’t think it counted. It turned out, it all counted. Always do your best. It is going to count in your future, just as it does for me, just as it does for everybody.”
In a spin on one of Mullane’s motivational messages titled “Countdown to a Dream,” Naccarato told his NACA students about his “Dream of a Countdown” and how he dreamed of going to space from a very young age.
His dreams of being an astronaut was not the entire story, though. As Mullane told the kids to “always do their best,” Naccarato’s message to his students was comparable. Naccarato said he was never in football or basketball because the other kids told him he was too short. He was never part of the student council because they told him he wasn’t popular enough.
His message to the students was that he never should have listened to those other kids.
“I should not have let somebody else determine my fate,” Naccarato said. “I should have made my own mind up … whether I was successful or not, I should have at least tried.”
Mary Malone can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.