High School News

Student historians use immersive technology to preserve WWII icon

Historical Preservation students 3D scan P-40 Warhawk at Pacific Aviation Museum

Posted on March 28, 2017 by Scot Allen

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In Lyssa Zawalski's Historical Preservation class, high school students learn the intricacies of history by immersing themselves in projects that contribute to the preservation of valuable artifacts. On February 8, the class visited the Pacific Aviation Museum on Pearl Harbor's Ford Island to scan the P-40 Warhawk.

The single-seat, single-engine P-40 Warhawk is an icon of World War II. Nearly 12,000 P-40s were built before production was halted in 1944. Since it was less expensive to build and maintain, the plane was considered a centerpiece of the war effort in the early 1940s.

"In reality we are doing so much more than scanning an airplane," Zawalski said. "We are teaching the students historical preservation tools and techniques, and that history is preserved by people, and it needs to be preserved accurately, and it needs to be preserved now. It is a cool way to keep things from the past preserved in the present no matter what happens. It gives these students the tools they need to be preservers and gives them a chance to write the history, which is really exciting."

The P-40 Warhawk on display at the museum is a fully-functioning aircraft, said to be one of 100 remaining in the world. The goal of the class was to capture the plane in 3-D using the Faro LiDar scanner. The class then stitched the multiple scans together to create the 3-D files that were shared with the museum.

"We are trying to preserve this P-40 Warhawk by using the LiDar scanner to create a digital copy of it for future generations so that they can look at the plane," said student Ian Oshiro. "Through our scanning we are trying to make it available to everyone by digitizing it so that people can look at the plane on the Internet from wherever they are."

Using invisible laser beams, LiDar scanning can capture objects with amazing accuracy. The files have so much detail that, when viewed, people can virtually walk around the entire aircraft to explore every detail. The accuracy of the scanning process also means the exact shapes and dimensions are preserved for eternity.

The scanning project was handled by small groups of students. They placed the Faro scanner on a very large survey tripod, strategically placed boundary markers, created paper diagrams of the process and even spoke to museum visitors who were curious about the process.

Once the files are processed, Mid-Pacific will present the digital files to the Pacific Aviation Museum for use in educational displays. The 3-D scans could make it to the Smithsonian digital archive.

According to Zawalski , the goal of this social studies class is to put the students at the forefront of historical preservation, and have them actively participate as historians. "(The goal is) to teach students the value of memorializing the past and begin to consider what needs to be preserved from our culture today," she said.

She believes the technology used in the class makes history come alive. Students can investigate an actual historical site --and then be charged with replicating it digitally. "They soon realize how serious their jobs are and they discover how they want to preserve history in the future," said Zawalski.

"I think a huge shift in education is giving the students voice and control, within boundaries, over the content in the classroom," she said. "Giving students the power over what they want to learn really invites students them into the classroom and makes them feel that they have an investment in their learning."