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Student-led Aerospace Design Team Experiences

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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

Hands-on Activities and Student Learning in Aerospace Engineering - II - Student Papers

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Michael C. Hatfield University of Alaska, Fairbanks

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Michael C. Hatfield is an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Associate Director for Science & Education, Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration. He earned a B.S. in electrical engineering from Ohio Northern University; an M.S. in electrical engineering from California State University Fresno, and a Ph.D. in Electrical/Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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Dawson Lewandoski

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Student-Led Aerospace Design Team Experiences

Design teams offer an inexpensive and effective means to supplement traditional student learning with real-world design experience.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) popularity has skyrocketed, with these having become ubiquitous throughout almost every segment of society. As a result, students are looking for opportunities to work with UAS and to distinguish their resumes with relevant work experience for the future. Unfortunately, it is often difficult for students to fit additional academic courses into their already full schedule. In addition, university programs frequently lack sufficient personnel and resources to support additional courses associated with an aerospace program. Club experiences can provide an alternative means to bridge this gap and satisfy student needs.

Design team activities represent important opportunities to instill career competencies and broad skill sets needed in industry, including: (1) Leadership – mentoring, training, and development of future leaders. (2) Management – coordinating work, timelines, de-conflicting resources, and securing financial support. (3) Program building – public awareness, outreach, and recruiting. Systems Engineering Design Process (SEDP) knowledge and experiences to be gained from participation in design teams can provide students these valuable skill sets within a supportive and flexible setting.

Practical benefits of a UAS-related design club also include: (1) Flight experience in developing basic skills and proficiency, as well as understanding flight permissions and certifications processes. (2) Test capabilities, with experience in component bench test, ‘infinite wind tunnel’ (outdoor) tests, and the use of wind tunnels. (3) Rapid prototyping capabilities utilizing 3D printing, foam core with composite skins, and spar/stringer with mylar skin techniques. In addition, UNIVERSITY is making use of computer numerical control (CNC) milling for student clubs and moving towards advanced 3D printing using metals and composite materials.

Activities such as UNIVERSITY’s successful American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Student Design/Build/Fly (DBF) Teams offer a low-cost, flexible, and efficient means to achieve all of these learning objectives. In addition, students gain added benefits through taking ownership of their educations and career training, developing and honing highly-desired traits such as independence, self-reliance, critical thinking, goal-setting, and the ability to not only function effectively in small teams, but to develop an awareness of what it takes to support and grow the team over the long-run.

As a result of its participation, UNIVERSITY has experienced significant growth in the size and diversity of students in the AIAA DBF team. It has also sparked synergies with the university’s new aerospace engineering program and UAS operations and research conducted by UNIVERSITY’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) UAS CENTER sponsored by the FAA and by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In addition, this program has also drawn interest from the aerospace industry for future collaboration.

This paper will outline the motivation for UNIVERSITY’s AIAA DBF Team, as well as pertinent skills learned in UAS design, production, and flight test. It will also detail the teams’ results in recent DBF competitions, lessons imparted from the current effort, the positive organizational impacts resulting from this, and future efforts to be tackled by this maturing program. This will include insights, lessons learned, and recommendations from the perspective of students leading the team.

Hatfield, M. C., & Lewandoski, D. (2019, June), Student-led Aerospace Design Team Experiences Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33307

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2019 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015