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Implementing A Progressive Approach To Tangible Aircraft Design

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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

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

15.677.1 - 15.677.31



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Paper Authors


Matthew Rowland Dept. of Civil & Mechanical Engineerint at United States Military Academy

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MAJ Matthew Rowland graduated from the University of Washington in 1998 with a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering. He earned a Master of Science degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from the University of Washington in 2008. He has served in various command and
staff positions during his Army career and during his tenure at USMA has course directed the aeronautical subdiscipline course for Aircraft Performance and Stability. He is the current faculty advisor for the SAE Design Build Fly team.

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Andrew Bellocchio United States Military Academy

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MAJ Andrew Bellocchio earned is Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the United States Military Academy as well as his Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Tech. He is an Army Aviator who has served in numerous command and staff positions during his Army career and was the course director for Aircraft Performance and Stability from 2007 to 2008. He is currently serving the United States Army overseas.

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

Implementing a Progressive Approach to Tangible Aircraft Design


Implementation of an undergraduate aircraft design curriculum in a short aeronautical engineering course sequence can be challenging. Ideally, students need to be taught fundamental aircraft design material in a way that can easily be transitioned to a hands-on design project. The project should be both interesting and fun but also try to cover the entire design process from a conceptual standpoint to the preliminary design phase and finally expose them to the detailed manufacturing of a prototype for testing. As is often the case, time and resources are limited and much of the hands-on engineering education experience so valuable to a student is hard to achieve. While many students can and do receive this type of educational experience through a competitive capstone design project, it is arguably better that this is not the first time they are exposed to integrating and applying the material covered in an aeronautical engineering course sequence. This paper details how to make use of an inexpensive hands-on glider design project that can be integrated across a short undergraduate aeronautical engineering course sequence effectively educating students on the practical application of aircraft design. Through the individual design and construction of multiple balsa wood gliders over a two course sequence, each student can apply and correlate the various aspects of aircraft design with tangible, measureable results better preparing them to work as a team in support of a capstone project. While the use of balsa wood gliders in aerospace engineering is relatively common, this paper details how to apply a more robust design methodology that enhances a student s aircraft design education. The goal of the paper is to provide engineering educators with the documentation, analytical tools, and examples necessary to establish a glider design project within their own existing engineering courses. Some aircraft design aspects addressed are aircraft sizing, stability, configuration and layout, as well as performance parameters such as lift-to-drag ratio, wing loading, and range. Direct feedback on successful or unsuccessful design aspects are realized through class competitions using the individually constructed gliders and results are formalized in a report. The impact of the project on student capstone performance and its contribution to aircraft design education is assessed through student surveys and degree of capstone progress.


For over fifteen years now instructors at the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point have made use of an inexpensive hands-on glider design project to practically apply aircraft design concepts covered in class. Through the years the project has evolved into a relatively simple but conceptually robust method in which students can practice implementing all aspects of aircraft design. Because the project is repeated over a short course sequence, lessons learned from early designs can be reinforced and expanded upon in a subsequent design allowing for improved performance and application of new more complex concepts. The current aerospace engineering short course sequence in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the United States Military Academy consists of two semesters, one at the junior level and the second at the senior level, that cover fundamentals of aerodynamics, aircraft performance and design, as well as static stability. Every student designs, builds, and flies a balsa wood glider in both

Rowland, M., & Bellocchio, A. (2010, June), Implementing A Progressive Approach To Tangible Aircraft Design Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15919

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