Monday January 10, 2011

Ready for Takeoff

The University has acquired the only Merlin flight simulator designed for academic settings in the U.S. and just one of 15 in the world.

It's one thing for University of Dayton engineering student Kramer Doyle to design a plane on paper. It's another to see if it can actually fly.

Doyle and other "Flyers" can try out what they design in the classroom now that the University has acquired the only Merlin flight simulator in the U.S. and just one of 15 in the world.

"This is something you can touch and play around with. It's not just a lecture or reading," said Doyle, who is looking forward to designing and testing an aircraft similar to the U.S. Air Force's A-10 Warthog. "Most flight simulators aren't concerned with real physics. You can do things with those that actually would rip real wings off a plane. The Merlin flight simulator is much more of an engineering tool than anything in the commercial market."

The simulator also is different because it's specifically designed for academic settings and is more about teaching students about flight than teaching them how to fly, according to Merlin managing director Christopher Neal.

"Students can look at aircraft handling the way a test pilot does" without the risk of actually flying a plane, Neal added. The system, he said, is similar to what Boeing and Airbus use in evaluating aircraft design.

"Ten minutes in the simulator is worth hours in the classroom," said Andrew Self, a professor at England's Kingston University.

George Done of London's City University touts Merlin's system as the "only means of demonstrating the effects of design faults safely."

Aaron Altman, University of Dayton mechanical and aerospace associate professor and director of the graduate program in aerospace engineering, will use the simulator in his introduction to flight, graduate aerospace design and undergraduate capstone aerospace design courses.

"I can completely change the geometry, inertia, mass, configuration, layout, aerodynamic, flight dynamic, propulsion and structural properties of airplanes modeled by the simulator," Altman said. "What better way to teach students than to have them design their own airplane and then try to fly it."

Neal said, in addition to students designing their own planes, they can examine Sir George Cayley's glider from the 1700s or a Harrier's vertical takeoff. Students also can "fly" with others around the world via a high-speed Internet connection.

University of Dayton School of Engineering Dean Tony Saliba said the addition gives faculty an innovative hands-on teaching tool that complements the University's involvement in Ohio's Aerospace Hub and the Center for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Exploitation.

"With this acquisition, we can develop students with the expertise to build on the tradition of aerospace innovation in the region," Saliba said. "Acquiring the simulator also supports our goal of developing well-trained aerospace engineers to feed the demand for highly skilled aerospace workers in Ohio, specifically in Dayton's aerospace hub."

University of Dayton students as well as students from around the nation will put their aircraft design skills to the test in April during Merlin's inaugural IT FLIES U.S.A. competition. The University will host the competition, which judges the best aircraft design and how well it flies.

For interviews, contact Shawn Robinson at 937-229-3391. For more information on the Merlin Flight Simulation Group, contact Marion Neal at