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UAS Design in Active Learning

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

UAV and other Team Projects in Aerospace Engineering

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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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John Monahan University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Upward Bound

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John Monahan is currently the Director of University of Alaska Fairbanks, Upward Bound and Principal Investigator of the National Science Foundations EPSCoR Track 3 "Modern Blanket Toss" project investigating the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in K12 classrooms.

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Samuel Vanderwaal

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Carl H France

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Logan Walker Graves UAF

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Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) offer a fresh opportunity to teach students the systems engineering design process (SEDP) and basic principles of aerospace engineering. The widespread popularity of UAS, the explosion of affordable and capable systems, and recent advances in policy by the FAA have enabled a climate where UAS may be effectively used as a model for students in many age groups to learn the SEDP and critical problems solving skills. A UAS SEDP focused project provides a stimulating hands-on active learning opportunity many students are seeking today. In addition, the application of UAS to solving real-world problems provides intrinsic motivation to students and faculty alike, as well as engendering public support.

The UNIVERSITY has broadly embraced the concept of active learning across the board, supporting initiatives to more effectively engage students, such as “flipped” classrooms where students take a more active role and responsibility for their education. In engineering, the university has enthusiastically begun the process of infusing UAS and aerospace materials into the curriculum, this year initiating an aerospace engineering minor and developing numerous aerospace courses and research opportunities for seniors/graduate students. One such course incorporated the application of UAS SEDP to satisfy operational needs of UNIVERSITY CENTER and associated research mission requirements.

Aerospace Systems Engineering is a new multidisciplinary course intended to give students practical experience in aerospace engineering, and specifically providing new opportunities to learn about UAS (or traditional aeronautics or space systems design projects). The course is primarily targeted for electrical/mechanical engineering graduate students; however, interest was so great that it was also made available to undergraduate seniors on a trial basis. The response to the offering was overwhelming, the largest graduate course enrollment to date. Currently, the course is only offered as a one-semester course, but is expected to grow to a two-semester sequence in the future.

The students learn first-hand about systems acquisition and the SEDP by forming a ‘company’ to solve a problem posed in the form of a contracting statement of work (SoW). The company forms its own organizational structure, schedule and plan of attack for satisfying the SoW requirements. The specific goals of this year’s course were to retrofit an existing LM Stalker airframe with all new subsystems, including propulsion, electrical, communications, autopilot, and sensor packages. The operational requirements for the platform were intended to stretch capabilities of the original production aircraft, supporting a 2 kg payload for a flight duration of 2 hours and 1 kg payload for 4 hours. The team also leveraged numerous shared subsystem components to build out a DJI S900 hexacopter frame in order to increase CENTER existing flight capabilities. Instead of an experimental ‘one off’ design, each of these systems are considered to be the first airframe of a fleet of UAS to support operational mission requirements for CENTER and UNIVERSITY researchers.

This paper will describe the effort, lessons learned, and applications to future courses and research. It will also outline efforts to push this curriculum and UAS opportunities down to local HS/MS students.

Hatfield, M. C., & Monahan, J., & Vanderwaal, S., & France, C. H., & Graves, L. W. (2016, June), UAS Design in Active Learning Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27085

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