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The United States Military Academy Flight Laboratory Program – A Hands On Approach To Engineering Education

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Undergraduate Aerospace Labs/Design I

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.1329.1 - 10.1329.18



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Paper Authors

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Richard Melnyk

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Grant Crawford

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David Stringer

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Steven Braddom

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

The United States Military Academy Flight Laboratory Program: A Hands-On Approach to Engineering Education

United States Army Major Steven Braddom, Major David Stringer, Captain Richard Melnyk, Lieutenant Colonel Grant Crawford

United States Military Academy, Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering


Since 1970, the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point has used military aircraft to conduct Flight Laboratories as an integral part of the Mechanical Engineering curriculum. Conducting Flight Laboratories with pilots who are also classroom instructors from the Department of Civil & Mechanical Engineering (C&ME) accomplishes several things. First, they provide high quality, hands-on, one-on-one instruction to students in actual aircraft. The laboratories also demonstrate important aerodynamic concepts and the operation of aeronautical systems while validating the theory presented in the classroom. Most importantly, the labs excite students about engineering and inspire in them the desire to continue learning both in and out of the classroom. The USMA Flight Laboratory Program provides a model for a hands-on introduction to Aerospace Engineering. This paper details the experiments conducted in the three fixed-wing Flight Laboratories and the one rotary-wing Flight Laboratory currently conducted as a part of the USMA Aeronautical Subsystems curriculum to include the aircraft specifications, experimental methodology, and sample student results. Also included are samples of student feedback on the Flight Laboratory Program as well as a brief look at other universities with similar programs.


Joseph Lowman, in his text titled Mastering the Techniques of Teaching, said “Because science is based on empirical investigations and the application of general principles to real-world examples, science lectures are universally accompanied by laboratory experiences.”i This spirit has been a guiding principle in undergraduate engineering education at USMA for a long time. Like most engineering departments, the Department of C&ME at West Point utilizes concrete laboratories, wind tunnels, materials laboratories, internal combustion and turbine engines and a host of other equipment to help cadets understand the physical principles underlying the theory they study. The challenge to the department and any Aeronautical or Aerospace Engineering program is to provide students that same level of practical experience in their discipline.

In 1921, General Douglas McArthur, then Superintendent of the United States Military Academy, wrote about the Academy’s newly founded Aerodynamics course that the “…instruction is made as practical as possible by using charts, graphs, models, results of wind tunnel tests, lantern slides, films, lectures and actual demonstrations of an airplane.”ii This focus on practical application remains a hallmark of the Aeronautics curriculum at West Point to this

“Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education”

Melnyk, R., & Crawford, G., & Stringer, D., & Braddom, S. (2005, June), The United States Military Academy Flight Laboratory Program – A Hands On Approach To Engineering Education Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--15211

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