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Flying High on the Ground: Experiential Learning

By Karen Updyke, School of Engineering

IT FLIES Aircraft Design and Handling Competition is an international competition held twice a year — in April at the University of Dayton (UD) and in June at Swansea or Manchester universities in the UK.

Engineering students compete, test their designs and present their findings without leaving the ground because of the unique Merlin Flight Simulator Laboratory housed in UD’s School of Engineering Kettering Laboratories.

The laboratory is the only complete Merlin lab of its kind in the U.S., and Professor Aaron Altman, director, advises the UD It Flies team as well as coordinates their April competition at the University of Dayton.

As a professor of aerospace engineering, Altman champions student designs ranging from crop dusters to military transport to light sport aircraft.

“The flight simulator,” Altman says, “empowers the students and gives them what the classroom cannot — a grasp as to the how and why a plane performs in a certain way. It is testing within a controlled environment.”

Air Force lieutenant colonels, majors and generals as well as U.S. Navy test pilots from the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP) "fly" the student-designed simulations and contribute significantly to the students' aircraft design knowledge.

"The test pilot feedback further enriches the experience by providing them insight into the world of handling qualities and flight testing that they then must incorporate into their designs," says Altman. “By integrating the simulator lab with the design process class, students understand how their design decisions affect the equations that determine the flight dynamics and handling characteristics of their airplanes."

"When taking the stick in the cockpit of the simulator and maneuvering the aircraft, the student quickly realizes how well (or if!) any oscillations dampen out as well as the oscillation period and amplitude,” explains Altman.

April 2017 Competition Results: It Flies USA!
  • First: The University of Manchester, Yufei Jin, Ana Gea Espinos and Thomas Moissinac. Design: Two-person, short-range VTOL aircraft with electrical propulsion system
  • Second: The University of Dayton, Ryan Vince. Design: Boeing 757-200
  • Third: The University of Dayton, Hunter Johnston, Jacob Korczyk and Mark Susong. Design: Crop duster

Most Innovative Design

  • The University of Manchester, Charles-Antoine Lassonery, Kavin Kumar and Seiya Sato. Design: Hybrid aircraft with better performance and efficiency compared to B757 and A321neo

Best Project Presentation

  • First: The University of Manchester VTOL aircraft team
  • Second: The University of Manchester Hybrid aircraft team
  • Third: The University of Dayton, Tim Gerham. Design: Acrobatic aircraft
June 2017 Competition Results: It Flies UK!
  • First: The Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Sam Le Poole, ATLAS – unmanned blended wing body cargo freighter
  • Second: The Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Mike Hartman, E-SPARC, an electrically sustainably propelled aerobatic racing aircraft.
  • Third: The University of Manchester, Ugne Kiudulaite and Ruta Marcinkeviciute. Design: Light, closed-wing, single-engine aircraft design

Most Innovative Design

  • The Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Mike Hartman. Design: E-SPARC, an electrically sustainable, propelled aerobatic racing aircraft

Best Project Presentation

  • The University of Dayton, Hunter Johnston and Jacob Korczyk. Design: Crop duster
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