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Lt. Col. LouAnn Maffei-Iwuc and Capt. Leslie Kneipfer (Massachusetts Wing)

Posted on July 21, 2022 at 1:40 PM by Virginia Smith

Cadets and AEOs accept first prize check and cup from Col. Joe Kittinger, retired USAF for winning the HAB Challenge

Lt. Col. LouAnn Maffei-Iwuc (far right) and Capt. Leslie Kneipfer (far left) led their squadrons in collaborating to win the grand prize in the first CAP High Altitude Balloon Challenge in 2021. Retired USAF Col. Joe Kittinger, challenge ambassador, presented the Kittenger Cup to the group in Orlando.

July 21, 2022

This month's "AEO Story" is actually two stories of Massachusetts Wing senior members -- Lt. Col. LouAnn Maffei-Iwuc, Deputy Commander for Cadets at Goddard Cadet Squadron in Worcester, Massachusetts, and Capt. Leslie Kneipfer, External AEO for Massachusetts and AEO for Bridgewater State University Composite Squadron. Lt. Col Maffei-Iwuc also serves as Cadet Activities Officer for Massachusetts and assistant AEO for Goddard. The two have been instrumental in combining aerospace activities with their squadrons and were honored for one of their collaborations as they won the grand prize in the inaugural CAP High Altitude Balloon Challenge for Cadets in 2021. As winners, the group traveled to Orlando to receive the Kittinger Cup from Challenge Ambassador, retired USAF Col. Joe Kittinger, famed high altitude balloon scientist. Outside of CAP, Lt. Col. Maffei-Iwuc is a pediatrician serving her community for 37 years.  "As a pediatrician, I see children and adolescents from a different perspective," she says. "Their welfare and self-esteem are paramount." Capt. Kneipfer is a STEM teacher for grades K-5. "I have found the perfect niche as an elementary STEM teacher," she says. "Using a problem-based learning approach, with ties to real-world situations and current events, I am able to get students to go beyond pencil and paper solutions and require constructing, testing and evaluating the products." Both have won individual recognition through the years, and Capt. Kneipfer recently was named Major General Jeanne M. Holm Aerospace Education Officer of the Year national award. We asked them both some questions about their careers and collaboration, and their responses are below. 

Please introduce yourself and tell us how you began your Civil Air Patrol careers.

[Lt. Col. Maffei-Iwuc:] Greetings all from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, starting line for the Boston Marathon. My name is Lt. Col. LouAnn Maffei-Iwuc, Deputy Commander for Cadets at Goddard Cadet Squadron (Worcester, Massachusetts) and Cadet Activities Officer for Massachusetts Wing.

My youngest child, Ben, joined CAP in September 2000. Five months later, I joined as a Parent Sponsor. When an opportunity arose to fly on a KC-135 Stratotanker during the summer of 2001, I transitioned to full membership. The tragic events of 9/11 motivated me to pursue the Emergency Services track, while the aerospace education field trips sparked an interest in aeronautics and astronautics.
It was only after my son went off to college in the fall of 2006 that I transitioned to Cadet Programs at my unit. I embraced the role of Cadet Activities Officer and Assistant Aerospace Education Officer. I continue to hold these duty positions.

[Capt. Kneipfer:] And I am Captain Leslie Kneipfer, External Aerospace Education Officer for Massachusetts Wing and AEO for Bridgewater State University Composite Squadron. I joined the Bridgewater State University Senior Squadron in 2012 and began training in emergency services. I quickly became certified as Mission Scanner, Mission Observer and Airborne Photographer, and very much enjoyed the camaraderie on the SAREX flights. I have always considered myself lucky to find a “home” in MAWG, where I am surrounded by great people who are dedicated to a larger cause. When we became a Composite Squadron, I picked up speed with my original role of Aerospace Education Officer and was able to create aerospace projects with cadets.

Tell us about your careers outside of CAP.

[Lt. Col. Maffei-Iwuc:] Working with cadets and their families has been my most rewarding experience. As a pediatrician, I see children and adolescents from a different perspective. Their welfare and self-esteem are  paramount. Our goal is to "build the box around the child," within Civil Air Patrol, setting criteria for each individual cadet that can lead to success. 

[Capt. Kneipfer:] I am a perpetual student. After completing a post-masters STEM program, I went back to school to study Engineering Education at Tufts University. My next challenge will be to convince my husband to let me complete a Ph.D. program! I am a huge space geek and love getting my hands dirty. I have found the perfect niche as an elementary STEM teacher. Using a problem-based learning approach, with ties to real-world situations and current events, I am able to get students to go beyond pencil and paper solutions and require constructing, testing and evaluating the products. My classroom is always a noisy place, but it’s the sweet sound of minds at work! I also work with a wonderful team as a curriculum evaluator on the NASA eClips Educator Advisory Board. In this role, I use my background in education content to give feedback and recommendations on the NASA eClips™ curriculum currently in development to create engaging, real-world STEM resources to meet the needs of educators and students.

Tell us about how the Bridgewater and Goddard squadrons began their AE collaboration.

[Both:] Bridgewater and Goddard Squadrons began collaborating with aerospace programs in February 2020. The first meeting was phenomenal! The cadets loved working together! When the pandemic hit, it seemed only natural for the two squadrons to continue their relationship. We held joint meetings on a virtual platform several times per month. Our Aerospace Excellence activities continued to be innovative and

Cadets work on Kite assembly

The Bridgewater and Goddard squadrons continue collaborating on AE activities, including this kite assembly and flight activity.


During this time period and in the ensuing months, when we were again able to meet in person, Leslie and LouAnn developed a special bond. When the High Altitude Balloon contest was announced by our Wing's Director of Aerospace Education, we could not imagine working independently. We requested and received permission to form the “Godd-Water” Team. In our minds, the primary goals of participation in the HAB Challenge were:

  • Why is your experiment important? Who will it impact? How will it benefit humankind? How will it benefit the U.S. Space Program?

  • What is the science behind your hypothesis?

  • Personal responsibility and responsibility to your team members

  • Problem-solving: diving deep to find solutions to obstacles along the way

Our HAB cadets formed a quick bond and spent MANY long hours together working on the project. We laughed a lot and snacked a lot as we worked, eager to create experiments that had a meaningful impact on the space program. We learned early on that when Captain Joe performed his famous Excelsior high altitude balloon jump, in 1960, he had a malfunction in his right glove. At the extreme altitudes that he was ascending through (close to 103,000 feet), pressure drops significantly. This loss of pressure causes not only air molecules to separate, making it harder to breathe, but it causes human tissue to expand. The failure in Col. Joe’s glove caused his hand to swell significantly to the point where he could not use it. He bravely completed his mission using only one hand. Just a year before his jump, a
Naval pilot, Lt. Col. William Rankin, took off from South Weymouth NAFB, just a few towns away from where our HAB team was now meeting. Lt. Col. Rankin
was flying at 45,000 feet without a pressure suit when he lost engine power. Instantly as he ejected from his plane, his body was suddenly a freezing,
expanding mass of pain.

“Meanwhile, the pain of “explosive” decompression was unbearable. I could feel my abdomen distending, stretching, stretching, stretching, until I
thought it would burst. My eyes felt as though they were being ripped from their sockets, my head as if it were splitting into several parts, my ears
bursting inside, and throughout my entire body there were severe cramps.”  [LINK TO OUR SOURCE

Amazingly, Col. Joe and Lt. Col. Rankin both survived their falls. Their experiences dealing with the low pressure were the inspiration for what was one of our favorite (and definitely the grossest) HAB experiment. Our team decided to study what might happen to the body of an astronaut or pilot who also had a pressure suit failure. The trick was to come up with a way to do this that could fit inside of a test tube. We focused on Rankin’s experience with his eyes. We, strangely, began brainstorming a list of animal eyeballs that were small enough to fit inside the HAB test tube. Then we had to figure
out how to actually obtain an eyeball. There were calls to an animal research hospital and a human ophthalmologist to determine which animal eye was most similar to a human eye. We ended up ordering sheep eyes from Carolina Biological. Unfortunately, the eyes didn’t fit in the tubes! Our cadets bravely removed the excess tissue around the eyeballs to make them fit.

Based on the experiences of Kittinger and Rankin, they hypothesized that the decreased pressure of space would cause the eye to expand. Our eye was stuffed in a test tube along with seven other experiments, mailed from Massachusetts to Indiana, launched and ascended to a height of 103,000 feet in the HAB, mailed back to Massachusetts, and opened for the first time at Captain Kneipfer’s house. The smell nearly overtook all of us! The eye did not look the way we expected it to. Instead of expanding, it had caved in. Our hypothesis was not quite right, but the cadets thought about the results and determined that the eye likely did expand, but as the pressure increased on the HAB descent, the ensuing pressure would have made the damaged eye collapse in on itself. This affirmed that pilots and astronauts need to ensure that their pressure suits are in impeccable condition. Changes in pressure can have devastating effects on the human body.

Tell us about learning that the Godd-Water team had won the national championship and would be traveling to Orlando to meet Col. Kittinger.

[Lt. Col. Maffei-Iwuc and Capt. Kneipfer:]  When Susan Mallett called Leslie to announce the fact that Godd-Water had won the national championship, we were floored. The trip to Florida was
AMAZING! The highlight of our trip was meeting Col. Joe Kittinger, U.S. Air Force, Retired. Col. Joe sat down with our cadets, providing a personal history of his aerospace career. He spent time with the cadets, answering their many questions with enthusiasm. He valued them as individuals, acknowledging the merit of their science and hard work. It was heartwarming!

In addition to meeting Col. Joe, we had the privilege of meeting one of CAP’s powerhouses, Susan Mallett. She graciously arranged our lodging, our transportation, and our activities. Lt. Col. Gary Dahlke, was our tour guide extraordinaire! With decades of experience working within the U.S. Air Force and then with the Space Program, he was the perfect guide and mentor. We were able to tour the following facilities: Sands Space History Center, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, and Kennedy Space Center. There are so many memorable moments, but we would like to highlight a few:

  • Standing on the launch pad where the Apollo 1 tragedy occurred

  • Viewing the Atlantis STS from the eyes of Lt. Col. Dahlke, an engineer who was responsible for maintaining the integrity of its 24,000 tiles

The HAB Challenge epitomizes the importance of aerospace education within CAP. Adjuncts such as flight simulators, model rocketry, robotics, UAVs and other STEM kits enhance the monthly aerospace education training requirements, opening the door to science, technology, engineering, and math careers.

Do you have any advice for new AE Officers working with cadets?

[Both:] Our advice for new AE Officers working with cadets is to get the cadets involved by creating hands-on aerospace education activities that are both relevant and fun. If staffing is available, providing outreach programs to other youth organizations and schools is beneficial to all involved. It creates leadership opportunities for all involved. Engaging teachers in CAP as AEMs provides schools with a wealth of educational materials for grades K to 12.

We understand you have both received several awards and recognition for your work. Can you please mention some highlights?

[Lt. Col.Maffei-Iwuc:]  Several years ago, I was the recipient of the Frank Brewer Award both at the Wing and Region levels. In spring 2019, the Northeast Region’s U.S. Air Force-CAP Liaison Officer awarded a special coin in recognition of my efforts to promote aerospace education and leadership opportunities to the cadets within our Wing. This coin is so special!  Likewise, I was the 2020 and 2021 recipient of our Wing’s Cadet Program Officer of the Year Award. 

[Capt. Kneipfer:] I received this year's Major Jeanne M. Holm Aerospace Education Officer of the year national award. I was nominated for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. In 2021, I was the recipient of MAWG’s 2021 Frank G. Brewer Memorial Aerospace Award as well as of the Air Force Association Aerospace Education Teacher of the Year Award, Otis Chapter. Going back to 2017, I was one of 100 science educators from around the world selected by Honeywell Educators to attend a weeklong NASA program at Space Academy, Huntsville, Alabama. This was a phenomenal opportunity, participating in space trainings with astronauts, science professionals and specialists who train astronauts. 

Is there anything else you'd like to tell us that we did not ask?

[Lt. Col Maffei-Iwuc:]  My stint so far as a dual Aerospace Education-Cadet Programs Officer has allowed me the privilege of offering tours of aerospace museums, military installations, and nuclear subs in Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, New York, Ohio and Washington state. 

Within the Wing, my favorite hands-on aerospace education memories include making and launching hot air balloons not only with our cadets but with the Girl Scouts, and our “multi-station” approach to aerospace excellence. Our most impressive was an eleven-station Air Environment module incorporating such topics as a wind tunnel, barometric pressure, Bernoulli’s principle, making a hurricane, simulating a tornado, etc. We even had a meteorologist’s station complete with all manner of weather monitoring equipment.

[Capt. Kneipfer:] The STEM fields are becoming perhaps the most critical component in the future of education. The CAP aerospace program has the ability to have a real and sustained impact in the lives of what I’m hoping to be our future scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, while also exposing cadets and students with other interests to the variety of ways that STEM is integrated into their daily lives and possible future career paths. I am very grateful for all of the STEM kits and curriculum that are available to me through CAP and love watching children explore the sciences with wonder, awe and perseverance.

Lt Col LouAnn Maffei-Iwuc, center, in a group at an Alaska national park Capt Kneipfer with cadets as the cadets work with the Sphero robot on a Mars map

Lt. Col. LouAnn Maffei-Iwuc (left at center) and Capt. Leslie Kneipfer (right at far right) have led their Massachusetts squadrons in AE collaboration efforts since 2020.


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