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By Eric Weld   Date: 5/4/10 Bookmark and Share

Those Smith Engineers and Their Flying Machines

Lift, drag, speed, balance, weight, power, differential.

Smith engineers in the course Aerial Vehicle Design, (ENG 377), taught by Paul Voss, assistant professor of engineering, learned recently just how many parameters are involved in getting a machine to fly.

Three teams of student engineers designed and constructed their own motor-powered model aircraft as their final assignment in the course and transported them to the Indoor Track and Tennis facility (ITT) on a recent spring day to test their wings.

The objectives: get their machines to fly for at least 30 seconds; collect data gathered during the test flights; use the test and data to improve the flying machines.

Several tests were attempted in the ITT. First the flyers rolled on the floor without lifting off. Then they were tossed through the air in an attempt to enhance an inaugural flight. Nose dives and gear-bending crashes resulted.

Finally, an aircraft built by the Purple Team, as they dubbed themselves (and as their clothing indicated) was given an admirable toss. For several seconds it faltered, careening and dipping toward the floor as it seemed headed for another failed fate. But with a surge of battery power, the Purple Team’s blue-winged model lifted and flew strong—for about five seconds until its glorious maiden flight was halted by the ITT brick wall.

Success nonetheless, and in the aftermath of their first flight the Purple Team may have shared sentiments once felt by Wilbur and Orville.

“I’m so happy right now,” said Lydia Bussiere ’12, a member of the successful Purple Team. “The 40-plus hours we’ve put in this week on this project has paid off. Now I want to rebuild it because I know it works.” Her teammates Helen Johnston ’12 and Jacob Horsey, a Hampshire College junior, examined the embattled mini-plane.

Meanwhile, the team of Etta Grover-Silva ’10, Whitney McMackin ’10 and Courtney Murphy ’11 brainstormed ways to get their yellow-winged craft off the ground after several foundering attempts. More battery power, they concluded.

The final project for the engineers provides valuable experience in aerial vehicle development, one of the fastest-growing sectors of the aviation industry, said Voss. Thousands of engineers are employed to create small aerial vehicles such as the ones in Voss’ class, for test flights and operational improvements that can be applied to larger craft.

That day, for his students, it was back to the drawing board to apply what they learned during their flirts with flight in the ITT.

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