Lift: An upward force that counteracts the force of gravity, produced by changing the direction and speed of a moving stream of air
Thrust: A force that increase the speed of an object
Thursday started out like any other morning-after-the-last-day-of-school. I slept until nine and didn’t dress before I came downstairs, only to find all the marshmallow cereal was gone. I grumbled and grabbed the flakes. I cheered up when I saw a commercial for an F1000 remote control flyer. I wanted one and that got me thinking. I knew I wasn’t going to be getting one because I don’t have a job and my parents frown upon whim purchases. By the time my flakes stopped crunching and I was slurping down their soggy sweetness, I had my plan. I could build my own flyer, and if I was going to be building a plane anyway, why not build it big enough to fly with me in it?
I started out by drawing pictures of airplanes. You should always draw before you build. I learned that from the Wright brothers. They made a plane that could hold people, so I figured it was smart to imitate them. When I’m copying my older brother, my mom always says to him, “Imitation is the highest form of compliment.” I’m hoping the Wright brothers feel flattered. My brother just seems to feel annoyed.
Once my drawing satisfied my snazz-o-meter, I started my scavenger hunt for building materials. I started in the basement with dad’s supplies of handyman tools. He’s not the handiest of men, but he has the basics—hammer, screwdriver, tape measure, and some other things I don’t know what they do because I’ve never seen him use them. Maybe they had been presents like that sweater I have with the picture of a collie on it that my aunt thought was cute but that I keep in the darkest corner of my closest.
I carried everything outside and spread it out. I really had no idea how to turn my drawing into an actual airplane. I was thinking the Wright brothers’ biographers could have shared with the rest of us a few more steps in the process. To boost my confidence I jumped around and did a few air punches. I knew my plane had to have a place for me to sit and it had to have wings. Beyond that I wasn’t sure how it was going to work, but I decided just to start building it anyway. I mean, the day before I was flying with an elephant. This couldn’t be any harder, right?
I had a cardboard box for my seat. I used duct tape to attach foam wings. I had this great huge packing foam from my mom’s new freezer. The old one had a door that didn’t like to shut, so it defrosted more than it froze. But don’t feel bad because she got a new freezer, and I got wings that were light as a feather. Well, not exactly, that’s just an expression, but they were really light. Finally, I duct taped my big brother’s skateboard onto the box to give it wheels. My drawing had wheels. Real airplanes had wheels. I had to use it; it was a necessity. I couldn’t worry that my brother threatened me with punishment of death if I ever used it.
That was all pretty easy. Then I had to figure out how to go up. I knew that air pushed up on a plane as the plane moved through it. That’s called lift. I just had to figure out how to move through the air so it could lift the plane. Brilliance struck again. Nothing really hit me. (I just wanted to make sure you knew I was okay.) What was the brilliant idea? A sling shot. Now I just had to find elastic big enough to fling me, plane and all.
I asked my mom if I could clean out everyone’s underwear drawer of anything holey, something with holes in it, not something used in religious ceremony. She gave me that look that means you-must-be-up-to-no-good-because-you-never-want-to-clean. I just smiled back and took off in a flash when she said okay. I didn’t flash like a bulb, just ran off really fast. I gathered up any underwear that could pass as not perfect. It wasn’t gross. They were clean. And anyway, desperate times call for desperate measures. I don’t know where I learned that from.
I cut the elastic band out of each pair of underwear, cut open each one so that it stretched long, and stapled them all together into one long rubber band. I tied each end onto the railing on both sides of the porch steps. I was about eight feet off the ground, but I was hoping that lift would take me higher. I walked backward across our porch stretching the elastic with me. I had to sit backwards in the plane’s box seat in order to stretch the elastic behind the box. I let go with a snap and off I went. I slid across the porch floor and then sledded down the porch steps. At the bottom of the steps I tipped and the back of my head hit the ground with a thud. I stared at the clouds and knew I had just learned an invaluable lesson: lift has to be greater than weight if you don’t want to end up with a headache.
The sling shot hadn’t worked exactly as I had hoped. Airplanes have lift because they cut through the air with their wings at high speeds. I needed better thrust, a better way to move forward faster. I decided to work on a car to perfect the forward thrust before trying to build another plane.
I dismantled my plane into its various parts and went back to the drawing board. I didn’t really have a board, but I did draw a new design. I colored a lightning bolt onto the side of the car for a special touch, a memento. I learned from my grandma to remember the good times, and riding in a lightning-powered bumper car had been a blast, of the non-explosive kind. On the other side I wrote, “Thrust or Bust.”
I took the wings off my box seat, thought of my brother and took off the skateboard, and then set off looking for a new set of wheels. I made a mental checklist of what counted as a wheel. It had to be round and big and strong enough to hold the weight of my box seat and I.
Round wasn’t as easy to find as I had thought. Flower pots and cups had round edges, but they weren’t the same round everywhere and couldn’t roll forward. That was a problem if I expected to get anywhere. Lamp shades were too flimsy, light bulbs too fragile. I needed thin, round and strong. I sat down and chewed on my pencil while I thought it over. And that was my answer. My pencil. Thin. Round. Strong, well, strong enough. I thought about rolling on that hail and figured that I could roll on pencils just as well.
I went in search of the lost pencil. You know, that pencil you had a minute ago and now you can’t find. I found three pencils in the couch, four under my bed, five in my backpack along with some jelly beans, though I don’t remember having jelly beans. I found a pencil on my dad’s desk and a full seventeen in my brother’s room. I found six in our backyard which I had used to, well, never mind, that’s another story. Thirty-six, an even number, so I could lay them side by side in two long rows under my box seat. As I rolled over them and they came out the back, I would pick them up and place them in front of my box. In the meantime I just taped them together two by two into eighteen long pencils.
Then I had one last problem. Or so I thought. Thrust. I had to have something that pushed me forward. What did regular cars use? Gas. Motor. I wasn’t sure how they worked together. But I knew a little something about gas. Don’t laugh. I mean carbon dioxide, CO2. It’s the stuff we breathe out. But it is also the stuff made when you build a volcano for science class and mix vinegar and baking soda. It’s also what bubbles up in yeasty bread.
I raided the kitchen and got all the baking soda and yeast and vinegar and lemon juice I could find. I figured I could make gas and point it away from me. The gas would shoot one way and it should shoot me the other. I learned that from reading the book on rockets my friend got me for my birthday. I needed to get the gas in one place so it could shoot out some hole instead of just escaping into the sky. I grabbed a balloon that I had found under my bed along with some of those pencils. I duct taped a little box with a hole in it to my seat and set the balloon inside and filled it with the baking soda and yeast. I pulled the end of the balloon out the hole.
I grabbed up my box-seat and headed out to the street. In the driveway I almost broke my neck, literally, when I stepped on my brother’s skateboard and my foot slipped right out from under me. I had a nasty bruise the next day, I won’t mention where, but my spine stayed intact, and I decided that a skateboard’s wheels were much better than a pencil conveyor belt. No harm, no foul, as they say. I’d just use the pencils some other way. There has to be another use for eighteen foot-long pencils, right?
In the middle of the road, I prepared for take off. I placed the box on the skateboard and climbed in. I had poured what was left of the vinegar and lemon juice into one empty water bottle. I stretched the lip of the balloon over the lip of the bottle. I tipped in the liquid and quick pulled out the bottle like a mouse stealing cheese from a trap.
I’m sure I must have produced some carbon dioxide gas, but I’m not sure how much because my big brother had been watching and waiting for his moment. He yelled like a madman, or maybe he yelled because he is a madman, and came charging at me. Maybe he was a little upset over my taking his skateboard. Maybe I should have tried the pencils first. He barreled into the box and started pushing me down the street at top speed, which was pretty fast, even for my brother. When he couldn’t keep up any longer, he let me go, and I was flying down the street, figuratively speaking.
I ducked and crossed my arms over my head like they teach you to do on an airplane in case of an emergency landing. I was sure this was an emergency. I heard the crackling of branches and I fell out of the box. I had crash landed in a neighbor’s blackberry bush. My left arm and left cheek were dyed purple from smooshing the berries. Lying there, I took a mental note of the lesson I learned. Thrust is good, but brakes are better.
I was stained beyond washing up, so when I got home, I just wiped my arm and cheek. The chunks and juice were gone, but I was stained. I guess I might have looked nice if I were glass. I parked the car in the garage, which means I threw it in the back along with the skateboard. Then I went back inside to regroup, as they say, even though there was just one of me.
I wasn’t going to get up by going fast forward. Air might hold up an airplane, but I couldn’t get going fast enough to get that kind of lift. If lift wasn’t going to get me up, I needed a push upward. I decided to mull over my options for skyward thrust over a drink. I went to the fridge and poured myself a cup of lemonade. I topped it off with my favorite straw, the curly kind that’s see-through and you can watch the lemonade go round and round before it disappears between your lips. I was sipping away and realized that I had my inspiration right in front of me. My curly straw!
I abandoned my lemonade and raced down the basement stairs, leaping off the fourth to the bottom step and landing with a crash at the bottom. I dug through the shelves until I found it. The pogo stick. Silver and blue in all its springy glory, I picked it up and dusted off a cobweb. Guess it had been awhile since I had bounced around on that thing. The pogo–thrust in a stick. If that didn’t give me a push upward, what would?
I ran out to the yard and started bouncing. It was just like riding a bike, not that it had wheels or anything, but I hadn’t forgotten how to balance and make it go. Boing! Boing! I bounced higher and higher. And then it happened. I landed on a tree stump and then from there I landed on the picnic table in our back yard and then from there on top of our shed and then from there on top of our neighbor’s house. I started boinging from house to house and sometimes tree house in between. At first I was a little concerned getting so high and not knowing how to get down other than falling, but then I remembered I was on vacation, so I just stuck one hand in the air and swung it around like I was holding a lasso and riding a bucking bull instead of pogo stick.
The buildings started getting taller and taller and I realized that I was going into the city. That’s when I heard a plane buzzing past. It was a small plane, a flying billboard. It was carrying a banner advertising some new kind of fizzy drink. The banner read, “Drink nothing but the best! Drink” and then it had a picture of the drink’s logo. I can’t tell you what it was or what it looked like because even though I got a close look at the plane and banner, I was really too close to see the end of it. And, well, not many people got a good look at the end of the banner because it fell off. Oh, okay, I confess. I ripped it off. It was an accident though!
I was bouncing, boinging along. I was at the top of a large building by then, higher and higher, like I said. The plane was passing close. And it was an instinct really. I boinged up by the banner and just grabbed on. The pogo stick crashed down on the roof of the building. I figured I would leave it there as a thank you, a thanks-for-letting-me-bounce-on-your-building gift.
When I grabbed onto the banner, the plane lost its balance and aimed up and then down, and I was struggling to just hang on. In the struggle, the banner ripped. I scrambled and managed to hang onto the front of the banner that was still attached to the plane. The pilot was shocked, of course, and headed right away to make an emergency landing. On the way to the airport, he inadvertently adverted to the following message: Drink nothing.
By the time we landed, the news crews had gathered. Did you see me on the evening news? If not, maybe you heard about it. Turns out that word had been spreading that the water supply was poisoned. As my feet hit the ground, Lisa Maloney from Channel 7 pointed the microphone at me and asked, “Why are you telling people not to drink anything? Is it true the city’s water supply has been poisoned?”
I had no idea what she was talking about. I certainly didn’t take the time to read the sign after it ripped; I was streaming through the air and holding on for dear life! She took my head shake to mean “no comment” and informed her viewing audience at home. Then she pointed the microphone at me again and said, “Did you have a reaction to drinking water?” Again I had no idea what she was talking about. She instructed the cameraman to zoom in on my face as she described the discoloration.
It dawned on me that she was talking about my blackberry stained cheek. I interrupted (I know that’s rude, but she was saying it was a possible reaction to poisoned water) and told her it was just a blackberry stain. She stared at me like I was crazy. She then ignored me and interviewed the pilot. The story began to unfold. Lisa is quick on her feet and asked me to drink a glass of water in front of the viewing audience at home to show them the water really was safe to drink. I drank the whole cup without stopping for air. I wonder if there is a record for that?
Lisa gave me a ride home in Channel 7’s news van. That was a first for me. After the initial thrill of it wore off, though, it was just like riding in a car. Riding an elephant is more fun over all. Did you see me on the news? Would I even ask if this were all balderdash?