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The Three Principles Of Powered Flight: An Active Learning Approach

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Innovations in the Aerospace Classroom

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.1175.1 - 8.1175.13



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Olivier de Weck

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Session 522

The Three Principles of Powered Flight: An Active Learning Approach

Olivier L. de Weck1, Peter W. Young2 and Danielle Adams3

Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139


A holistic education in aerospace engineering ought to encompass not only aircraft design, but should adequately treat other flight concepts. There are three known fundamental principles of powered flight. Balloons of any kind use the principle of buoyancy. Fixed wing aircraft and rotorcraft are based on airfoil lift. Rockets make use of mass expulsion to generate thrust and change their momentum. We have developed a new approach for introducing sophomores to these principles in Unified Engineering in the context of a CDIO (conceive-design-implement- operate) curriculum in Aeronautics and Astronautics. The active learning approach combines traditional lectures with exposure to small hands-on experiments. The artifacts used to investigate these flight principles are helium balloons, balsa wood gliders and water rockets, respectively. The first learning objective is derived from a desire for knowledge integration of traditional aerospace engineering disciplines: dynamics, fluid mechanics, materials & structures, signal & systems and thermodynamics & propulsion. A second set of learning objectives centers around skills required by successful engineers, such as technical communications, modeling, experimentation and estimation under uncertainty. Our initial experiences are positive and suggest improved learning by mutual reinforcement of theory and practice. Student motivation and understanding of key concepts appear to be enhanced, relative to a traditional lecture-only format. Further refinement and more quantitative assessment of learning success are ongoing efforts.

1. Introduction

Traditional curricula in Aeronautical Engineering have focused almost exclusively on aircraft design. This has led to a strong emphasis on the traditional disciplines of aerodynamics, structures and controls. One may hypothesize that this is rooted in the historical importance of the aeronautical industry after World War II and the expansion of civil and military aviation in

1 Assistant Professor, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Engineering Systems Division, Room 33-406, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139, U.S.A. Telephone: (617) 253-0255, Email: – corresponding author. 2 Senior Lecturer, Room 33-240, Telephone: (617) 253-5340, Email: 3 Undergraduate Student, Email:

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

de Weck, O. (2003, June), The Three Principles Of Powered Flight: An Active Learning Approach Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--12416

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