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CDIO-based Redesign of a Traditional Undergraduate-level Course on Aircraft Flight Dynamics and Control

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Innovations in Curriculum, Projects, and Pedagogy in Aerospace Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Srikanth Gururajan Saint Louis University, Parks College of Eng.

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Dr. Srikanth Gururajan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at the Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology at Saint Louis University. He received his PhD. in Aerospace Engineering from West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia.

Dr. Gururajan's teaching interests are in the areas of Flight Dynamics and Controls and believes that student aerospace design competitions are ideal avenues for students to express their creativity while complementing the knowledge gained in the classroom with hands-on experience as well as promoting greater collaboration and learning across disciplines.

Dr. Gururajan’s research interests are interdisciplinary and in the fields of fault tolerant flight control, parallel & distributed computing, real time systems, experimental flight testing using small UAS and UAS, and the design/development of natural language interaction with drones.

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Claire L. A. Dancz Clemson University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Claire L. A. Dancz is a Research Associate for Education Systems at Watt Family Innovation Center and Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Engineering and Science Education at Clemson University. Dr. Dancz’s research interests include creativity in engineering, technology-rich learning environments, STEM faculty development, team formation with conation, and sustainable civil engineering. She earned her Ph.D. in Sustainable Engineering from Arizona State University. She serves as external evaluator on engineering and science education research projects, corresponding member of the Formal Engineering Education Subcommittee to the Committee on Sustainability at the American Society for Civil Engineering, teaches an interdisciplinary Creative Inquiry course on Conation and Creativity in Engineering, and is the director for NAE Grand Challenge Scholars Program at Clemson. Dr. Dancz has been a Kolbe™ Certified Consultant since 2013 and consults on conation and team formation.

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Over the last decade there has been a significant shift from the use of fixed wing remote controlled aircraft to multi rotor platforms, thanks primarily to a coolness factor, relatively inexpensive imports as well as their flexibility in terms of flying, hover and carrying various imaging payloads. But, with user sentiment shifting from “Can you build a Quad, Hex or Octo – copter, it is cool”, to “What can your Unmanned Aerial System do for me”, from recreational use of drones to real world, fixed wing platforms are regaining favor in industrial and commercial applications. While multi-rotors have had their time under the sun, we firmly believe that the “future is fixed-wing”. Fixed wing aircraft have significant advantage over multi-rotors when it comes to endurance and the capacity to carry payload; they can carry more payload, fly for longer and are more forgiving to failures. These are critical factors on the side of fixed wing UAS, considering that the current climate for UAS operations limit most flights to within line of sight of the operator and other restrictions, with beyond line of sight (BLOS) and other flights allowed with FAA exemptions. But, it is not unconceivable that in the near future, beyond line of sight flights are more extensively adopted, enabling operators to execute long distance, long endurance missions.

Tracking back from this likely UAS deployment scenario, the requirements for undergraduate aerospace engineers to embark on successful careers in the industry is likely going to be the capability to Conceive – Design – Implement - Operate (CDIO) such platforms. The most relevant aspect of the CDIO approach in the context of our course curriculum redesign is that it has been shown to be successful in fostering long term retention of fundamental engineering concepts taught in the classroom. At our institution (as perhaps with others), constraints on time and resources has resulted in a limited, informal adoption of some aspects of the CDIO approach (without a tangible, consequential hands-on experimental component), and has been restricted mostly to the capstone course. Within this effort, we propose to incorporate the CDIO concept into a course on aircraft flight dynamics and control by redesigning the course curriculum and introducing hands-on design and testing modules at appropriate points, while meeting ABET goals.

As it currently stands, at our institution, aircraft flight dynamics and controls is taught as a required course in the fall semester for senior undergraduate students. The course is structured to provide an intense introduction to aircraft dynamics, starting from the fundamentals, addressing derivation of equations of motion, static and dynamic stability and building all the way up to the design of stability augmentation systems such as yaw and pitch dampers. Using Matlab based programming assignments, this approach has shown to provide a broad knowledge of the fundamentals and insights into complex interactions that drive the dynamics of an aircraft, and has produced graduates who have successful careers in the aerospace industry, with major aerospace companies.

We anticipate that in the near to mid-term in the future, small and medium scale entrepreneurs will drive innovation at a faster pace and that their workforce needs would be graduates with a broad systems type skill set – students who have had a good theoretical foundation along with implementation and operational experience. To address this anticipated need, through this paper, we propose to redesign the existing course curriculum (for flight dynamics, stability and control) to incorporate the concepts of CDIO – to address certain targeted topics. In the revamped course curriculum, we intend to integrate the use of a custom fabricated fixed wing UAS with the course material. As and when relevant topics are covered in the class, students will be tasked to apply that to the UAS; for instance, when background aerodynamic topics are reviewed in class, the students will be able to apply that to the UAS and calculate its aerodynamic characteristics, lift-curve slope, aerodynamic center and static margin, for example. In subsequent sections of the class, when aircraft dynamics (longitudinal and lateral-direction) is modeled under small perturbation assumption, and Stability Augmentation Systems (SAS) designed, students will be tasked to use the computer code they developed to predict the dynamic performance of the UAS, with and without the compensators – followed by actual flight tests. We believe that incorporating actual field and flight testing experience is a critical component that has been missing mainly because it is hard to incorporate into conventional course curriculum, given the logistics and risks of flight testing. The availability of low cost hardware and custom built UAS platform at our institution, as well as the extensive experience of the authors with flight testing process has opened the possibility of incorporating this into the curriculum.

It is important to note that the intent of the authors is not to redesign this course to replace the capstone projects; they are much more comprehensive and involve other topics including, but not limited to aircraft structures and propulsion.

In addition, we also intend to include methods to measure educational outcomes from this redesign. Our approach will include processes to understand the impact on student learning and the value of CDIO approach to students. We will use a “What? So what? Now what?” reflection model to measure impacts on student learning from the UAS field experience. Reflective approaches in undergraduate education have been shown to strengthen emotional intelligence, encourage confidence, bolster decision making, promote meaningful learning, and support complex topic acquisition through reflexive review of skills throughout development. Students in this course will be tasked with a three-part guided reflection exercise after working hands-on with UAS.

Part One: “What?” emphasizes observations of the experience. Through measurable evidence students will build a descriptive account of the experience by answering questions such as “what am I trying to achieve?” and “what happened?”. This is followed by Part Two: “So What?” in which students will infer meaning through analysis of the experience by answering questions such as “so what is this importance of this?” and “so what more do I need to know about this?”. During Part Three: “Now What?” students will synthesize previous answers to consider alternative actions and build deeper level of understanding with questions such as “now what might be the consequences of this action?” and “now what do I need to do to repeat/stop/change a particular action?”. Student-produced reflections will be analyzed for content mastery and concept connections made between in-class material and hands-on UAS field experiences.

Further, we will employ a retrospective survey and post survey to measure the value of the CDIO approach. Programmatic changes are often measured by pre/post-surveys in which pre-survey responses are compared to post-survey responses in an effort to understand which aspects of the program did or did not impact participants. This technique, however, does not take into account changes in frame of reference, or response shift bias, that may occur as a result of participating in the program or, in the context described herein, participating in the learning experience. In an effort to minimize the confounding factor of response shift bias, student perceptions of the course will be collected at the same time for both surveys; retrospective survey will capture students’ pre-course value perceptions at the same time post-course value perceptions are captured. Results from the impact on learning and student perspective of value will be used to evaluate the successes and opportunities for improvement of the redesign approach. From this body of work, we will produce lessons learned for redesigning a course curriculum using CDIO approach and implementing hands-on design and testing modules and share key pivot points that influenced the educational outcomes for students.

Gururajan, S., & Dancz, C. L. A. (2019, June), CDIO-based Redesign of a Traditional Undergraduate-level Course on Aircraft Flight Dynamics and Control Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32499

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