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Table of Contents

  1. Lesson Overview
  2. Objectives
  3. Time Allotment
  4. Pre-Loading Activities
  5. Prerequisite Skills
  6. Vocabulary
  7. Materials
  8. NCTM Process Standards
  9. NCTM Content Standards
  10. Aeronautics Content
  11. Classroom Organization Suggestions
  12. Teacher Tips
  13. Accessibility
  14. Additional Activities
  15. Online Resources

Lesson Overview

Jimmy Doolitle movie: "Mission Possible"

This Introductory movie provides historical information on Lt. James Harold Doolittle, an early aviator who set speed records, performed the first outside loop, and was the first pilot to fly with instruments only. The movie describes three of the instruments in a plane's cockpit: the compass, the attitude indicator, and the altimeter.

Altimeter Activity

In the activity, the student is an aerial photographer who needs to fly a helicopter to three different picture locations using only the altimeter to navigate the helicopter. If the helicopter is too high, clouds get in the way and the picture is no good. If the helicopter is too low, it will crash into the hillside.

The altimeter measures the altitude at which the plane is flying. Rather than a digital readout, the altimeter uses a dial with three different "hands" and with the numbers 1-10 around the dial (similar to a clock, but it only goes up to 10). Each hand shows part of the altitude; the short hand gives readings by 10,000 ft., the middle hand gives readings by 1,000 ft. and the longest hand gives readings by 100 ft. The student is given a graph that shows the cross section of a piece of land with the 3 different locations marked, all at different altitudes.

Students need to set each of the three altimeter dials separately according to the place values of the given altitudes. In other words, if the first altitude is 23,500 feet, the short hand is set on 2 (for the ten thousands place), the middle hand is set on 3 (for the thousands place) and the long hand is set on 5 (for the hundreds place). The other two altitudes for the remaining locations are entered in the same way, and then the student flies the helicopter to see if they can reach the three locations.

In the explore mode of this activity, students are given the altitudes of each location. The challenge mode requires students to estimate the altitude using a graph showing the locations and a scale of the altitudes. The actual altitude of the location is not given. The student needs to read the graph to determine the altitude before setting the altimeters.


Time Allotment

Students can preview the historical information section about Jimmy Doolittle and participate in the activity at least three times during a 30 minute period. The movie itself lasts for 3-5 minutes, although this time can vary depending on the speed of your modem and your Internet connection.

Playing time for the activity will vary based on student comprehension of activity and number of times student repeats activity. Students can also bypass the historical introduction and go straight to the activity.

Pre-Loading Activities

To speed up the loading of the Jimmy Doolittle movie and altimeter activity, you can use this pre-loading utility. Clicking on this utility will load all the portions of the Jimmy Doolittle movie and activity into your web browser's cache. Ideally, you should pre-load the movie and activity no more than a day or two before using them with your class. If there are multiple computers being used, then each computer will have to pre-load the activities individually.

If you have problems using the pre-loading utility, you may want to check to see if the cache on your browser is enabled. The cache contains the most recently downloaded files from your browser. Make sure the size of the cache is set to at least 2 MB, although you can set it up to 10 MB if you have the hard drive space. To locate the Cache option in your web browser:

Click here to pre-load the Jimmy Doolittle movie and altimeter activity (612K).

If there are other classes or students using the same computers between the time you plan to pre-load and the time your students will use the Jimmy Doolittle movies, you may want to set the cache to a larger size or pre-load closer to the time your students will be using the computers.

Prerequisite Skills



No extra materials are required, although some students may feel the need for paper and pencil, an accessible substitute like MathPad or a calculator.

NCTM Process Standards

Standard 1: Mathematics as Problem Solving

Standard 2: Mathematics as Communication

Standard 4: Mathematics Connections

NCTM Content Standards

Standard 5: Number and Number Relationships

Standard 6: Number Systems and Number Theory

Standard 7: Computation and Estimation

Standard 10: Statistics

Standard 13: Measurement

Aeronautics Content

Class Organization Suggestions

Collaborative groups help with classroom and student management and assist student learning. Optimally, in computer lab settings 2-4 students at one computer support each other and learn effectively.

A script of the movie text is available as a Text-Only screen from the movie page. You may choose to print this out and make copies for your students if you wish to reinforce reading skills or aid those students who have difficulty with oral comprehension.

Teacher Tips

Students' decision making process can be noted if students are required to keep track of data given to them in the activity, i.e. students are required to write down their altitudes and mark the place values in each number.

Some numbers and graphs may be difficult to read on the screen, due to size limitations of the monitor. Graphs can be reproduced quickly and easily with chart paper and markers or on white board as students are solving activities. Screens may also be printed.


The movie is set to run in sections, and some sections will begin when the student clicks the "Next" arrow. If the student is unable to use the mouse, the Enter or Return key can be used to trigger the "Next" arrow. The Shockwave movie needs to be in focus for this to work, so if hitting the Enter/Return doesn't seem to work, simply click anywhere on the movie screen to bring the movie into focus.

The activity section of this lesson is accessible through the keyboard. Students can use the space bar to cycle through all the entry options on the screen which will be highlighted by a small yellow bar next to the option. Students then use the up or down arrows to enter valued or use the Enter or Return key to select an option.

Additional Activities

  1. Students can set altimeters to represent a specific altitude that is then presented to another student who has to determine the correct altitude, given the altimeter.
  2. Redesign the altimeter to be used in another form of transportation, provide rationalization.
  3. Students can look up the altitude of various location using a topographical map, and then represent them on a graph similar to the one used in the challenge mode of the altimeter activity.
  4. Students can research other instruments that are used in the cockpits of modern aircraft.

Online Resources

There are many helpful on-line resources listed in our Aeronautics Links page. Some sites directly applicable to Jimmy Doolittle are:

James H. ("Jimmy") Doolittle

U.S. Air Force 50th Anniversary Open House
Featuring short biographies of Jimmy Doolittle and other important people from the history of the Air Force.