“About 20 minutes after takeoff on Tuesday, Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was steering a Southwest Airlines plane toward cruising altitude, generally considered the safest part of a flight. But then the left engine exploded. The blast hurled debris into the side of the plane. A passenger window shattered. The cabin depressurized. A woman was partly sucked outside the plane. Passengers panicked and flight attendants sprang into action.In the cockpit, Shults remained calm as she steadied the aircraft, Flight 1380. ‘Southwest 1380 has an engine fire,’ Shults radioed to air traffic controllers, not a hint of alarm in her voice. “Descending.” M. Haag, The Boston Globe
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
“In an instant, Shults found herself in a situation most pilots face only during training: having to land a plane after an engine goes out.”
For the next 40 minutes, she displayed what one passenger later called ‘nerves of steel,’ maneuvering the plane, which had been on its way from La Guardia Airport in New York to Dallas Love Field, toward Philadelphia for an emergency landing.
In the seats behind her, passengers sent goodbye text messages to loved ones, tightened oxygen masks around their faces and braced for impact. Flight attendants frantically performed CPR on the critically injured passenger, who later died at a hospital.
But Shults, 56, was in control. She learned to fly as one of the first female fighter pilots in the Navy three decades ago, piloting the F/A-18 Hornet in an era when women were barred from combat missions.
At 11:20 a.m., Shults steered the plane, a two-engine Boeing 737, to a smooth landing on Runway 27L at Philadelphia International Airport. The left engine looked like it had been ripped apart.
‘This is a true American hero,’ Diana McBride Self, a passenger, wrote in a Facebook post. ‘A huge thank you for her knowledge, guidance and bravery in a traumatic situation. God bless her and all the crew.’
She enrolled in Navy flight school in Pensacola, Florida, in 1985 — the start of a decade of groundbreaking service…She flew the F/A-18 Hornet, the twin-engine supersonic fighter jet and bomber. After flight school, in 1989, she was assigned to the Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 34 in Point Mugu, California. During the Gulf War, her squadron was led by the first female air commander in the Navy.
Shults later became a pilot with Southwest Airlines, as did her husband, Dean M. Shults. Southwest Airlines declined to comment about her on Wednesday.
After her name started to appear in news reports on Tuesday, fellow female fighter pilots started to message one another about Shults. Christine Westrich, who flew the F/A-18 in the Marine Corps in the late 1990s, said she was struck by her service.
‘She is undoubtedly a pioneer, being a Hornet driver well before the combat exclusion law was lifted,’ Westrich said in an interview. “She kicks ass in my book.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer
Directions: Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- In the cockpit, Shults remained very calm.
- Shults radioed to air traffic controllers for help.
- passengers tightened oxygen masks around their faces.
- Flight attendants frantically performed CPR on the critically injured passenger.
- One passenger said that Tammy had nerves of steel.
- Another passenger said that she was awesome.
- The pilot remained clam in a traumatic situation.
- She then spent about a year in reserves before leaving the military in 1994.
- The blast hurled debris into the side of the plane.
- The cabin depressurized.
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
While ___still make up a small ___of commercial pilots, Shults took up___ when there were far fewer in the ___and when women were often told to find other careers.
At her___year at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas, she attended an ___event and spotted a woman in a piloting class, she told an alumni publication.
WORD LIST: Air Force, junior, industry, flying, percentage, women,
Grammar Focus: Word -Recognition
Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.
But desperate/despite her accomplishments, she come/came up against the limits/limited placed on women in the military. She left activity/active service on March 31, 1993 — two days before the Navy asked the Clinton administration to/about open combat/combative assignments to women. She then spent about a year in reserves before left/leaving the military in 1994, reaching the rank/rankle of lieutenant commander.
III. Post Reading Activities
Discussion for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions.
- Have you ever been in a plane when something went wrong with the engine? Describe your experience.
- Why do you think the pilot Tammie Jo Shults was able to guide the plane to safety in a calm manner?
- If you were on that plane as a passenger what would you reaction have been? Would you have remained calm?
- Have you ever considered training to become a pilot? If so, explain why.
- Each group compose a letter or note to any person mentioned in the article telling them your thoughts on the topic. Share the letters as a class.
1-Minute Free Writing Exercise
Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading. Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.