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Light Sport Aircraft Design Challenge

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Keywords: aircraft design, physics of flight
Subject(s): Science, Technology, Physics
Grades 7 through 10
School: George Washington Bush Mid Sch, Tumwater, WA
Planned By: Scott Cutler
Original Author: Scott Cutler, Tumwater
The 7th grade students at G.W. Bush Middle School (named after a local settler) are spending their year studying physics through the topic of flight. Not only do I fulfill the state’s science teaching objectives by teaching physics this way, but I also get to expose my students to the exciting field of aviation. They are using lessons in physics to design, test, and build aircraft structures and whole aircraft models. A wind tunnel is being used to test wing designs. An engineering challenge created by NASA will have the students testing propeller designs. And, a second engineering challenge created by the Society of Automotive Engineers (Who would’ve thought?) will allow the students to design their own balsa wood and styrofoam model aircraft. They will even begin building an actual aircraft made of wood and fabric (Pietenpol AirCamper) at the nearby airport.
Field trips to the airport will also allow the students to see what an FBO is and find out what it would take to earn their pilot’s license. Students will also be given the opportunity to fly in a real aircraft thanks to the EAA’s Young Eagles Program. The students leave this program with a deep understanding of physics and a great appreciation for what the local airport provides for our community.
The focus of this lesson have the students use authentic aircraft design software from Optimal Aircraft Design to design an aircraft that meets limiting criteria. Students are not often challenged in the upper levels in the cognitive domain (analyze, synthesize, and evaluate). The software will allow me to create problem-based scenarios that can only be solved by using these levels of thought. There is no one “right answer” in design engineering. My goal is for the students to see this for themselves. I will be evaluating how the students analyze the data they collect from the software and how they assemble that data to assess which design compromise offers the best solution to the various challenges. The students will gain a deep understanding of the design process, try out new ideas and concepts with immediate and accurate feedback, and explore all the flight conditions of the aircraft using this software.
The students will be assigned the challenge to design a new aircraft or modify an existing one to meet the demands of a customer (almost entirely Light Sport Aircraft criteria). The demands stated in the request will force the students to discover that designing an aircraft is a lesson in compromises. This problem-based scenario will give the students a true lesson in engineering.

Student teams will be given the challenge to design an aircraft that must meet the following criteria:
maximum gross takeoff weight of less than 600 kilograms
maximum airspeed in level flight of 120 knots (222 km/h)
maximum stall speed of 45 knots (83 km/h)
either one or two seats
fixed undercarriage and fixed-pitch or ground adjustable propeller
single motor
purchase price less than $100,000

At the conclusion of the challenge, the student teams will be required to present their final design solution to a panel of local aircraft designers and builders. The panel will be evaluating the student teams on how well they met the project criteria.

Links: Link to Optimal Aircraft Design website
Materials: High, Middle
Other Items: 1 Aircraft Design Software Education version, $1,170.31 each
1 ADS maintenance fee, $234.06 each, total of $234.06