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A Case Study Approach To Teaching Aircraft Performance: Reverse Engineering The Sr 71 Blackbird

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Aerospace Technical Session

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Page Count


Page Numbers

15.10.1 - 15.10.14



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Paper Authors


Brian German Georgia Tech

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Brian German is an assistant professor in the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research interests are in the areas of systems integration and optimization, aircraft conceptual design, and engineering education.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Case Study Approach to Teaching Aircraft Performance: Reverse Engineering the SR-71 Blackbird

Abstract This paper describes an approach and initial experience of incorporating case study assignments into an undergraduate course in aircraft performance. The concept is to pose a problem that involves reverse engineering a historical aircraft from performance data available in the public domain. The problem is framed as a case study in which students are encouraged to imagine themselves in a real-world role. Students are referred to a limited number of publications and performance data of questionable quality and are asked to assess the information and to answer a series of case questions. An initial implementation of the approach has been completed via the example of the SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft. As a famous high-speed and visually stunning aircraft, the SR-71 is a compelling and well-known example to many aerospace students that serves to motivate interest in the assignment. Students are asked to imagine themselves in the role of a 1960s-era Soviet intelligence analyst tasked with determining the characteristics of the aircraft from observed performance and intercepted design data. In the paper, the value of the case approach in engineering is reviewed, the SR-71 case is described, and results and lessons-learned from the initial teaching trial are presented. The students’ results are investigated statistically, and an assessment of the learning value of the approach is provided by the analysis of post-assignment student surveys. Conclusions are then drawn regarding the potential broader applicability of the case method for both aircraft performance and other courses in the aerospace engineering curriculum.

Introduction Case studies are teaching methods based on historical scenarios that typify the practice of a profession. Cases have been used effectively in fields including medicine, law, and business management to provide real-world context to curriculum material and to foster a learn-by-doing approach to practical problem solving. The use of case studies in engineering education appears to be more limited than in these other professional fields.

Inspired by case-based approaches to engineering education, this paper describes an initial experience of incorporating a case study assignment into an undergraduate course in aircraft performance. The teaching trial was intended as a prototype experience to evaluate the effectiveness of a more holistic application of case studies in the aerospace engineering curriculum.

Performance courses are especially suitable for applications of the case method because historical aircraft can serve as powerful examples of attainable performance of different aircraft types. The performance course is also the point of entry for students in the aerospace design curriculum, insofar as performance methods enable both aircraft configuration sizing and the analysis of mission performance requirements. Because of this strong connection, the performance course offers a pedagogical opportunity to begin the process of teaching students the skills needed for effective aircraft design. Design requires a deep base of experience, and the

German, B. (2010, June), A Case Study Approach To Teaching Aircraft Performance: Reverse Engineering The Sr 71 Blackbird Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16919

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