Remembering Seymour Papert, pilot

There are a lot of obituaries of Seymour Papert, an MIT researcher famous for his work on Logo, the late 1960s/early 1970s programming language for children that was supposed to help them learn math and other technical disciplines. As with most attempts at innovation within the American public school system, this proved to be a failure, but it seems unfair to judge Papert because unionized government workers weren’t effective at coding or teaching coding.

This posting is to share a vicarious memory. One of my advisors at MIT flew to Chicago with Papert in a Bonanza, piston-powered Cessna, or similar light airplane. This was back in the 1970s. FAA records show that Papert had a current medical in 1997 (age 69) and his Private certificate with airplane single engine land and instrument airplane ratings was issued in 1999 (age 71; perhaps this was a reissue somehow? he wouldn’t have been flying to Chicago without an instrument rating). Papert enjoyed teaching what he knew about aviation and used his non-pilot passenger as a navigator for this pre-GPS flight, entrusting him with charts. During the long flight, the passenger learned how to tune and use VORs and read IFR charts. From the perspective of the young professor sitting in the right seat there were some harsh words from ATC in the Chicago area regarding the aircraft’s position within what probably would have been called the “TCA” back then (Class B or “Bravo airspace” today, now that we have adopted ICAO terminology).

It seems that Papert lived to 88, long enough to watch his students work and, in most cases, retire. He flew until at least age 69, something that the current generation of professors won’t even attempt, and did nearly all of those flights in an era when it wasn’t possible to look at a moving map with a big “you are here” symbol. I have raised a Royal Caribbean Bellini to his memory and legacy here on the Serenade of the Seas.


  1. SuperMike

    August 2, 2016 @ 11:49 am


    I loved logo! I remember making Olympic rings in honor of the 84 games with it on the trusty Apple II. (And I’ve been more or less paying the bills with I.T. work my whole adult life, so it wasn’t a complete failure)

  2. ScarletNumber

    August 3, 2016 @ 12:31 am


    I remember Logo from school as well, but I just remember it as drawing with a turtle. Was there more to it than that?

  3. Michael Moser

    August 8, 2016 @ 8:03 am


    >I remember Logo from school as well, but I just remember it as drawing with a > turtle. Was there more to it than that?

    Its more like scheme or lisp – it has lists and recursion is the primary control structure. (doesn’t have macros – think of the children)

    Brian Harvey did UCB Logo – this is considered to be the logo for our times

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