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UAS Aerospace Projects as a Catalyst for Interdisciplinary Engineering

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Innovations in Curriculum, Projects, and Pedagogy in Aerospace Engineering Education

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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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Denise Thorsen University of Alaska, Fairbanks

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Denise Thorsen received her B.S. (1985), M.S. (1991) and Ph.D. (1996) degrees in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently a Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

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UAS Aerospace Projects as a Catalyst for Interdisciplinary Engineering

Aerospace projects provide a unique opportunity for students to gain valuable experience in interdisciplinary engineering by blending considerations from the fields of mechanical, electrical, computer engineering, computer science, and other disciplines to the solution of a complex problem. Unfortunately, most colleges often do not possess an organic aerospace engineering program or other formal means of implementing interdisciplinary engineering at the program level. However, even singular aerospace projects undertaken by students within particular engineering disciplines can provide an alternative means to promote the principles of interdisciplinary engineering and gain experience with the systems engineering design process (SEDP).

Traditional aerospace projects have predominantly focused on the design, construction, and flight operations associated with small satellites and rockets. While these have and continue to enjoy much support over the years, such efforts also generally require a relatively expensive and long term infrastructure system necessary for the development of complex systems, ensure student safety, and span gaps of time between infrequent launch opportunities. However, in recent years, the rise in popularity of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) represents another avenue for conducting useful interdisciplinary engineering projects within a greatly compressed timeframe and limited resources.

Example courses at UNIVERSITY include EE656, Aerospace Systems Engineering, and EE693, UAS Systems Design, where students have within the past year built a number of quadcopters, hexcopters, and octocopters which now have joined the FAA UAS RESEARCH CENTER operational fleet supporting arctic research and public service missions. In addition, ME487, Senior Design, has included several UAS projects, including fixed-wing aircraft participating in the annual American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Design/Build/Fly (DBF) competition, as well as a multirotor featuring complex counter-rotating main propellers and outrigger motors for stabilization.

Students participating in these aerospace-focused courses have all gained valuable experience in interdisciplinary engineering, far broadening their exposure to other specific engineering disciplines. In addition to these, they have also garnered aerospace-specific experience with UAS bench test, flight test, flight planning, and flight operations. In addition, they have gained valuable exposure to design process methodologies inherent in the SEDP, as well as important leadership and management skills by working in teams to tackle these projects.

These opportunities and their relationship to other recent UNIVERSITY initiatives, including its aerospace engineering minor and AIAA Student Chapters, have made a strong impact on students seeking a career in aerospace-related fields. It has also resulted in heavy interest by potential students considering attending UNIVERSITY.

This paper will outline efforts undertaken by students at UNIVERSITY to conduct aerospace projects via existing design courses in mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering/science. Specifically, the paper will focus on interdisciplinary skills gained by students that might not normally have the opportunity to learn these at this stage in their education with the programs on hand. This includes experience with UAS vehicle design, construction, and flight experience, as well as team dynamics and exposure to the SEDP.

Hatfield, M. C., & Thorsen, D. (2019, June), UAS Aerospace Projects as a Catalyst for Interdisciplinary Engineering Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33467

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