NASA Engineer Helps Comedian Tackle Fear of Flying

Langley aerospace engineer Anna McGowan and NASA 360 co-host Johnny Alonso (R) spoke with Malkoff (L) at the Newport News - Williamsburg International AirportComedian Mark Malkoff is spending the entire month living on AirTran airliners to try to overcome his fear of flying.Survey any number of airline passengers and you may not hear the most positive reaction to air travel these days. Seats are cramped. Planes are crowded. And don't even get anybody started on delays, security procedures or extra costs. So what would possess anyone to live on an airplane for a month and endure 30 days of conditions many people would prefer to avoid?

Meet Mark Malkoff.

The 33-year-old comedian/writer/filmmaker is staying on an AirTran airplane the entire month of June and sharing his experiences with the public via the web. According to his website,, "Although I'll switch planes, I'll never set foot in an airport. I'll change flights by way of the tarmac."

How does somebody keep busy on a plane for an entire month? Malkoff's videos show he's already memorized the SkyMall catalogue, played Twister and called Bingo over the airplane microphone. But he's also been meeting new people, including aerospace engineer Anna McGowan from NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

McGowan visited with Malkoff at the nearby Newport News - Williamsburg Airport to help him learn more about flying and especially about the research NASA is doing to make more it efficient and environmentally friendly.

"We're developing technologies for the next generation of flight," said McGowan. "We're working on engines that have a much lower fuel consumption. We're also reducing the weight of airplanes using innovative materials that are lighter weight but stronger than they are today."

Malkoff started his journey "to get over my fear of flying. I've struggled with the fear for years." He says flying has definitely gotten easier. "If the fear started at a 10 ... it's now about a two," he said.

But even after flying 197 hours and 82,000 miles (approx. 132,000 km), Malkoff still had questions about why planes do some of the things they do. He asked McGowan why planes have to bank or fly at a "tilt".

"The pilot is trying very carefully to make a smooth one-G turn, so that your glasses aren't sliding off the edge of your tray and so that everybody stays level in the airplane," said McGowan. "He wants to avoid side slip."

Joining McGowan at the airport was Johnny Alonso, one of the hosts of "NASA 360," a half hour NASA TV program that explores NASA's contributions to everyday life. NASA 360 and a crew that follows Malkoff both videotaped the conversation for future shows.

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