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Aircraft System Design Graduate Curriculum: A Lifecycle Focus

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Graduate Aerospace Systems Engineering Design

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.143.1 - 10.143.13



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Paper Authors

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Paul Lagace

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Earll Murman

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

Aircraft System Design Graduate Curriculum: A Lifecycle Focus

Earll M. Murman, Paul A. Lagacé Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Engineering Systems Division Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, MA 02139


Aircraft system design encompasses technical, social and lifecycle topics, and is suitable for graduate studies at the masters level and beyond. Several degree programs in MIT’s School of Engineering offer opportunities for students seeking subjects and degrees in this area. These programs are summarized, and one subject on Aircraft Systems Engineering is introduced as an illustration of content and pedagogy addressing lifecycle topics. Based upon several years of experience of participation in these programs and in offering curriculum, the authors put forward seven observations to stimulate further dialog and progress on this topic.


Undergraduate subjects on aircraft design have been taught for many years in aeronautical or aerospace engineering departments, often as a capstone subject. A key pedagogical objective is teaching tradeoffs among disciplinary needs to meet system-level requirements. The focus is usually on preliminary design or prototyping. Aircraft, however, are complex systems comprising many subsystems, and usually represent only one element in an air transportation, air defense, or other system of systems. In the current and future marketplace, successful aircraft must deliver best lifecycle value, i.e. they must meet stakeholder expectations for lifecycle costs, availability, and performance. And aircraft must meet stringent safety and environmental criteria. The multitude of factors that influence aircraft design go beyond what can be addressed in one course at the undergraduate level and open opportunities for graduate level curriculum for aircraft systema design.

Aircraft systems encompass a wide spectrum of technical, social and lifecycle factors with interrelationships amongst them1. Aeronautical engineers are familiar with the many technical factors, ranging in scale from individual parts or lines of code through major components and subsystems to the aircraft system and beyond to the system of systems level. Taking into account all these technical elements and their interfaces, interactions and interdependencies in the design of an aircraft is a major challenge. The challenge is intensified when one realizes that modern aircraft have lifecycles measured in many decades. To cite just two examples from the Appendix, the DC-9 family of aircraft will have been in service with major airlines for 45 years and the B-52H with the U.S. Air Force for at least 75 years when they are finally phased out. a Usage of the word “system” or “systems” varies within the field. For some, the plural version refers to the entire aircraft and all is subsystems, while for others it refers only to the subsystems. Both singular and plural forms are used in this paper, somewhat interchangeably, to represent the entire aircraft as a system.

Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition. Copyright  2005, American Society for Engineering Education.!!

Lagace, P., & Murman, E. (2005, June), Aircraft System Design Graduate Curriculum: A Lifecycle Focus Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--15307

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