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The Role of Radio-Controlled Model Airplanes in the Education of Aerospace Engineers

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Aerospace Technical Session 2

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Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1571.1 - 26.1571.11



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Paper Authors


Kathy Schmidt Jackson Pennsylvania State University, University Park

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Kathy Jackson is a Senior Research Associate at Pennsylvania State University’s Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence. In this position, she promotes Penn State’s commitment to enriching teaching and learning. Dr. Jackson works in all aspects of education including faculty development, instructional design, engineering education, learner support, and evaluation.

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Mark D. Maughmer Pennsylvania State University, University Park

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Dr. Mark D. Maughmer received his B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from the University of Illinois, and an M.S.E. in Aerospace and Mechanical Sciences from Princeton. He has been on the faculty in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Penn State since 1984. His research activities are analytical, experimental, and computational, and generally in the areas of aerodynamics, primarily aircraft and wind turbines, and aircraft design, flight mechanics, and stability and control. He has worked on aircraft designs with a number of companies, and has played a key role in the development of winglets for sailplanes and low-speed aircraft. He is actively involved in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the American Helicopter Society (AHS), and the International Organization for the Science and Technology of Soaring (OSTIV). He has served as the Chairman of Aerospace Engineering Division of ASEE and received their Distinguished Service Award in 2006. He was also honored with the ASEE Fred Merryfield Engineering Educator Design Award in 2009, the John Leland Atwood Award from AIAA/ASEE in 2013, and the William T. Piper General Aviation Award from AIAA in 2014.

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Benjamin T. Pipenberg The Pennsylvania State University


Nicholas Jared Grasser The Pennsylvania State University

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Teaching Assistant
M.S. Aerospace Engineering candidate
B.S. Aerospace Engineering with Honors 2014
B.S. Mathematics with Honors 2014

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Stephen Van Wert The Pennsylvania State University

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Doctoral Candidate in Engineering Science and Mechanics
Graduate Consultant at Penn State's Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence

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The Role of Radio-Controlled Model Airplanes in the Education of Aerospace EngineersStudents enter our classrooms with a wide variety of backgrounds and experience. There was atime when students came into engineering with a tinkering background (hands-on experiencesand use of tools), but today’s students spend more time virtually experiencing the world. Inaerospace engineering, students who have spent time flying airplanes, radio-controlled models,and/or model rockets are able to relate concepts they learn in class to something they have seenor experienced first-hand. For example, a student who is a pilot and has experienced a stall seemsto have more interest in boundary layers and flow separation because of their time in the cockpit.The experience gained in flying radio-controlled models provides a degree of intuition that helpsstudents better understand the importance of properly sizing the tail of an airplane. In an effort toprovide more students with such practical and enriching experiences, aerospace engineeringstudents at xx University have access to radio-controlled airplanes in a special projects class.This class is a unique offering in that it is offered first-year through graduation, and studentsnormally take it every semester during their programs. In this hands-on and interactiveclassroom, the students have traditionally (over the past two and a half decades) designed andfabricated full-scale sailplanes, but over the past few years, the class has been working on ahuman-powered aircraft as an entry to the Kremer Prize Competition that is administered by theRoyal Aeronautical Society of Great Britain. This effort is largely student driven and requires agreat deal of discipline and self-motivation from those involved. In addition to working on thehuman-powered aircraft, a sub-group of students design and construct a model airplane thatcompetes in the annual AIAA Design-Build-Fly (DBF) competition.This paper describes student experiences flying the radio-controlled airplanes. The studentsresponded to a pre- and post-survey to gauge how they perceived the use of the airplanes and tosee how their thinking about aerodynamics changed. The instructor and teaching assistantidentify the benefits and strategies to consider when using radio-controlled airplanes in anaerospace engineering curriculum. With an emphasis on hands-on and applied learning, studentsare able to make deeper connections between what is being taught and how it is applied in theworld beyond the classroom.

Jackson, K. S., & Maughmer, M. D., & Pipenberg, B. T., & Grasser, N. J., & Van Wert, S. (2015, June), The Role of Radio-Controlled Model Airplanes in the Education of Aerospace Engineers Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24909

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