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A Scaffolded, Semester-Long Design/Build/Fly Experience for the Mid-Career Aerospace Engineering Student

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Design Courses 2, Aerospace Assets

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Tobias Rossmann Lafayette College Orcid 16x16

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Tobias Rossmann is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Lafayette College (Easton, PA). He received his PhD in 2002 from Stanford University. His research interests have focused on the development and application of advanced optical measurement technology to complex fluid flows, from micro-optical sensors to large reacting flowfields. He has received the 2011 Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award (SAE International), is a five-time winner of the Rutgers School of Engineering Excellence in Teaching Award, and is an Associate Fellow of the AIAA.

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Design-Build-Fly (DBF) projects are most commonly cornerstone and capstone experiences for undergraduate aerospace engineering students as a way to get them excited about the major and give them a chance to demonstrate all they have learned during their degree. These hands-on projects develop a wide array of engineering skills and have been shown to increase retention and excitement in a difficult major. However, there are fewer of these experiences present in the middle of a typical aerospace curriculum. Early DBF experiences typically focus on basic aerospace knowledge, simple construction techniques, and streamlined modeling and simulation. Later DBF experiences leverage an entire curriculum of vertically integrated coursework to facilitate a year-long capstone-type project. The mid-career student is still developing their fundamental skills, building them in a number of disparate courses outside the major (math, physics, mechanics) as well as courses within the major (spanning aerodynamics, flight dynamics and control, and structures). Thus, it is difficult to create a DBF experience that is more sophisticated than the first year (Introduction to Engineering) variety but does not require the sophistication of a nearly graduating student. Additionally, this type of mid-career DBF project should offer the students a “sneak-peak” at the fundamental physical concepts required for the successful design of aircraft and spacecraft while they are completing their math, physics, and introductory engineering/major courses.

This paper details the design and use of such an experience as a semester-long activity to develop core engineering skills in mid-career (second- and third-year) students. This strategy is implemented in a 200-level lecture/laboratory course entitled Introduction to Aerospace Engineering for 24 mid-career students. The DBF experience (rocket flight) is scaffolded, leveraging traditional systems engineering and integrated vehicle design approaches detailed in lecture with hands-on laboratory experiences utilizing experimental measurement, computational simulation, scale flight tests, and prototyping. These experiences foster skills which necessarily build upon each other giving the students sufficient tools to design and build their own rocket in the final four weeks of the course. Each of the individual laboratory projects culminate in a laboratory memo which also helps develop technical communication skills. The final exam for the course is a flight test taking maximum payload weight to a specified altitude.

The efficacy of this approach is measured using immediate post course surveys. Surveys and interviews of students are also conducted after they had completed a course in Fluid Mechanics (usually one to two semesters later) and a capstone DBF project (one to two years later). The goals of these later surveys are to determine if experiences in this type of mid-career DBF project had significantly influenced their approach to later coursework or team projects. The structure of the course, the particulars of the hands-on experiences and DBF project, and a summary of the survey and interview data will be detailed in the final paper.

Rossmann, T. (2021, July), A Scaffolded, Semester-Long Design/Build/Fly Experience for the Mid-Career Aerospace Engineering Student Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36608

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