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
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
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
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,
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.