News Release

From: Dave Gibson, Executive Director
For: All media Southwestern Ohio, selected Indiana media and institutions
Date: August 2, 2001
Intended Time Frame: Back-to-school article for August or September, 2001

40 Years Ago, "The Flying Classroom" Served Area Schools

Baby Boomers fondly remember watching Howdy Doody, Lassie and the Ed Sullivan TV programs as they grew up in the 1960's. When they went to school, they may have also watched TV but the programs were educational. No, they weren't from the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) because PBS hadn't been created yet. The programs were from MPATI (pronounced im-pa-ti) and they were broadcast from a DC-6 aircraft that in flew in a figure-eight flight pattern over eastern Indiana. This "Flying Classroom" provided educational TV programming for eight years to schools in six states, including Ohio. It was the only time in our history when an airplane was used on a consistent basis to broadcast television programming. The 2001-2 school year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Midwest Program on Airborne Television Instruction or MPATI.

"MPATI was truly a unique and groundbreaking program in the field of distance learning," according to Dave Gibson, Executive Director of the Southwestern Ohio Instructional Technology Association (SOITA), a non-profit corporation affiliated with Miami University. SOITA regards MPATI as being its parent organization. "MPATI was really the first organized attempt to utilize instructional technology in area classrooms," Gibson said.

MPATI broadcasting and flight operations began in September of 1961. Taking off from its home base at the Purdue University Airport, the MPATI DC-6 would fly to an orbit point in eastern Indiana near the small village of Montpelier (about 50 miles west of Celina, Ohio.) Once at the orbit point, the plane flew at 23,000 feet in a figure-eight pattern for six hours, the equivalent of a 2,000 mile flight from Cincinnati to Las Vegas. This flight schedule continued each school day for eight years. A 24 foot antenna was lowered from the belly of the plane and broadcasting began over specially designated TV channels 72 and 76. Videotapes of educational TV programs were broadcast from the plane that became known as "The Flying Classroom." However, the airplane more closely resembled a flying TV station than it did a flying classroom. The plane was staffed by a crew of six: three flight crew members and three television engineers. One problem MPATI encountered was boredom on the part of the pilots who basically had to fly the plane in circles for most of the day. MPATI minimized this problem by hiring part-time pilots who only worked the MPATI flights on an infrequent basis.

Schools throughout Ohio participated in this program which was primarily funded through the Ford Foundation and Westinghouse Corporation. The teachers who appeared on the videotaped programs were selected through a nationwide search for master teachers. MPATI television course offerings were intended to supplement the local school curriculum. Subjects included elementary foreign language, advanced math and science as well as social studies and language arts. MPATI was viewed as one way to bring the best educational programming to a large number of schools, even the most geographically isolated and economically disadvantaged. The programs were videotaped at several educational TV production sites including WCET in Cincinnati, Indiana University, New York University and the University of Michigan.

MPATI broadcasts served schools in six states including Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Ohio. At the time, this region was the largest area in the world (127,000 square miles) served by one television transmitter.

MPATI officials worked closely with over 20 resource institutions to disseminate information, provide teacher training and receive feedback from teachers. These resource institutions included Miami University, Bowling Green State University, the University of Kentucky, Northwestern University, and Notre Dame University.

MPATI ended broadcast operations in 1968 as grant funding ran out and schools were unable to fund the program through membership fees. Although the program ended, MPATI did prove that large numbers of students could benefit from an electronic delivery system to the classroom.

If you're a Baby Boomer and remember watching TV at school in the early 1960's, there's a good chance it was MPATI. "We have heard from several people who remember the MPATI courses as their first exposure to foreign language or advanced math. Former students have fond memories of the MPATI TV teachers, who were as popular in the 1960's as Mr. Rogers and Big Bird are today, " Gibson said.

Over the years, distance learning systems have continued to improve and evolve. Since 1998, the state of Ohio has connected over 700 school buildings with fiber optic cable through the Ohio SchoolNet interactive-video distance learning program. This system allows participating schools to contact each other over a two-way interactive video and audio link. They may also contact thousands of resource organizations nationwide who are also hooked into the system including zoos, museums and scientific research sites. "SOITA has provided staff development workshops to hundreds of area teachers so they may utilize this new system to take virtual field trips. Using fiber optics and the Internet as a delivery system is a whole lot easier than flying an airplane in circles for six hours a day," Gibson said.

For more information about MPATI, visit the web page