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The Penn Sate Sailplane Course

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

ASEE Multimedia Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.1169.1 - 7.1169.11



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Paper Authors

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Mark Maughmer

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

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Session 2793

The Penn State Sailplane Course

Götz Bramesfeld and Mark D. Maughmer The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802


Since 1989, the Department of Aerospace Engineering of The Pennsylvania State University has offered a special undergraduate project course that has a strong emphasis on “hands on” design and fabrication. Specifically, a group of approximately twenty-five students, freshmen through seniors, is involved in the design and construction of high-performance sailplanes. Students can and are expected to enroll in this course for every semester during their undergraduate study. The basic course structure consists primarily of three components. The first, lecture, provides the student with the necessary theoretical background of modern sailplanes and their design requirements. The second component is concerned with design groups of four to six students, in which the students design and analyze sailplanes, such as their performance, structure, stability and control, and so forth. The third component is the fabrication of parts that have been designed and analyzed theoretically, such as the current project of a full-size, 50-foot wingspan sailplane made out of modern composite materials. To a large part, the learning experience can be related to the integrated nature of the design course, as well as to the interaction of undergraduate students at all levels of their program.


For the past twelve years, the Department of Aerospace Engineering of The Pennsylvania State University has offered in its undergraduate curriculum a rather unique flight vehicle design and fabrication course that attempts to provide aerospace-engineering students with a training that is comprehensive and applied. 1-3 The course has a strong “hands-on” component, with students designing and fabricating modern high-performance sailplanes. The students can and are expected to enroll in this course for every semester of their undergraduate experience. During that time, the students experience the cooperative, multi-disciplinary team environment that is required for solving the problems related to the design of an aerospace vehicle.

The course concept is based on similar student groups at German universities, the Akademischen Fliegergruppen (Academic Flying Groups) or, abbreviated, the Akafliegs. The members of these groups, some of which have been around since the early 1920s, concern themselves with the design, construction, testing, and flying of modern sailplanes. Although not part of the official curriculum at their respective school, the groups receive some logistical support from their institutions. In brief, their structure is similar to that of an American Greek-letter social fraternity, except that the focus of interest revolves around soaring. At eleven German colleges, Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright Ó 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Maughmer, M. (2002, June), The Penn Sate Sailplane Course Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10745

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