Blue Skies Ahead

Flight Simulation for Aeronautical Engineering

In recent weeks our blog has been almost exclusively about remote teaching and the technology to support it. But it’s important to remember that this chapter will eventually close, and at some point (even if it seems like the distant future) we’ll all be back on campus free of masks… and hand sanitizer… and social distancing. So in addition to lifting the burdens of obsessive hygiene and isolation, students can look forward to experiencing flight with our new RedbirdTD2.

This is not just any flight simulator – the Redbird runs on Lockheed Martin’s Prepar3d software (pronounced “prepared 3-D”), and is certified by the FAA as a basic aviation training device when operated in its normal configuration. Outside of that configuration, the sim will enable engineering students to test fly their own aircraft designs in a virtual environment …they’ll just need to make a few calculations and tweak some aerodynamic coefficients with the software development kit.

In other words, students will soon be able to:

  1. Take a course in aerodynamics and design an airfoil (or an entire plane)
  2. Fabricate parts using rapid prototyping tools in the MakerSpace and the Engineering shop
  3. Gather performance data by observing those parts in the campus wind tunnel
  4. Program the simulator to behave according to data collected

And finally, if steps one through four don’t sound like enough fun in and of themselves, students can sit in the cockpits of their virtual craft to pilot them… connecting theory and calculation to haptic experience.

To get the ball rolling, Professor Carr Everbach will incorporate the simulator when teaching aerodynamics this January (you can express interest in the course by emailing him above). For the moment, students will merely observe the system remotely. But after the pandemic is over, folks will be able to use the sim in person to experience flight without ever leaving the ground.

With enough work it may even be possible to simulate gravity and atmospheric conditions on Mars. SpaceX, get ready for Swatties.

Additional questions about the sim? Contact Jeremy Polk