Math teacher takes to the sky

Math teacher Jeff Snapp is cruising at 2,000 feet when the radio of the two-seater helicopter he is piloting buzzes to life. Snapp said he gets nervous listening and responding in the official language of the air.

“To say the right thing in the right way and then to interpret what’s being said to me and to be in control is a lot to focus on,” Snapp said.  

To be in control requires that Snapp use his left hand to maneuver the collective, which regulates vertical height and looks like a car’s emergency brake with a motorcycle’s twist throttle. Snapp uses the joystick-like cyclic in his right hand to control left, right, forward and backward movement.

Snapp has been flying for the last few months. He can’t recall when he first decided he wanted to fly, but he started seriously considering it last year in conversations with David Alagem ’08. 
Snapp takes lessons at Van Nuys Airport for two hours on Saturdays and Sundays with Robert Skinner of Group 3 Aviation.

Snapp has amassed about 15 hours on his way to the 40 hours needed to receive the Federal Aviation Administration’s certification.

Snapp will have to stop training soon because he is getting long-needed shoulder surgery in a couple of days. If all goes well with his recovery, he expects to be able to earn the certification during the summer.  

In addition to the collective and cyclic, the other tools of Snapp’s new trade are the foot pedals, or in helicopter-speak, the anti-torque pedals.  One controls the yaw, or heading of the copter and the other controls the rear, or tail rotor.

Snapp prefers learning how to fly a helicopter to an airplane.  To him, airplanes are mainly modes of transport for getting between points a and b. Helicopters, on the other hand, offer Snapp much more range of movement, and a more experiential ride. Snapp gets to look around, hover along and just generally experiences more options in the white Schweizer 300CBI helicopter he frequents on the weekends.

Snapp finds hovering to be the most difficult skill he has learned so far. He cites Isaac Newton’s third law of motion; every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

“Every movement you make is going to fix one problem and cause another. When you’re that close to the ground, the slightest movement will cause a domino effect,” Snapp explained. 
Snapp looks beyond his teaching career and thinks his certification can come in handy later.

“Sometimes I think maybe this is opening a door for something to do after Harvard-Westlake, [such as] flying around the volcanoes in Hawaii, glaciers in Alaska or even doing some commercial flying for different companies.”