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A Freshman Design-Build-Launch Experience

[+] Author Affiliations
Cary A. Fisher

U. S. Air Force Academy

Paper No. IMECE2005-81611, pp. 339-345; 7 pages
  • ASME 2005 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition
  • Innovations in Engineering Education: Mechanical Engineering Education, Mechanical Engineering/Mechanical Engineering Technology Department Heads
  • Orlando, Florida, USA, November 5 – 11, 2005
  • Conference Sponsors: Mechanical Engineering Education
  • ISBN: 0-7918-4232-0 | eISBN: 0-7918-3769-6
  • Copyright © 2005 by ASME


This paper will describe an “Introduction to Engineering Systems” course taught to ALL freshmen students at the Air Force Academy. Not your normal freshman mechanical engineering course, Engineering 100 (ENGR100) is a web-based, hands-on systems design course where student teams design, analyze, build and fly a rocket-powered, controllable boost-glide “concept demonstrator.” Along the way they learn (in just-in-time fashion) the fundamentals of mechanical, electrical, aeronautical, astronautical, civil and environmental engineering. The course begins with a one-lesson design exercise, followed by a discussion of the “Engineering Method” and how it compares to (and differs from) the scientific method. Next, each team is given a Statement of Work (SOW), requiring them “to design, build, and test a concept demonstrator system...to represent the configuration, launch facilities, and mission profile of a Hypersonic Orbital Global Strike System (HOGSS).” The Statement of Work is somewhat daunting to most students, so we help them proceed as engineers do: break the big problem into smaller, more manageable projects. Students learn a bit about ballistics, drag, and the power of an interactive spreadsheet, before building and launching their model rockets on our parade field to verify their predictions. On-line tutorials help them understand the importance of paying attention to balsa wood grain alignment prior to glider launch day from the field house balcony. They see the importance of servo arm and control rod placement for best mechanical advantage using in-class models and videos. They verify the stability and control of their boost glider design, both on the spreadsheet and in our “homemade” wind tunnel. On launch day they experience the thrill of victory as well as the opportunity for redesign! Each lesson is peppered with both instructional and motivational videos keyed to the daily reading assignment. Class time is used for additional demonstrations, team meetings, reinforcement of the more challenging concepts, and plenty of lab design-build-test-redesign opportunities. Student teams document their progress in a structured “Team Binder,” and present their results in several formal briefings. This course has been taught to over 3000 students the past six semesters with impressive results, validated by various imbedded assessment methods.

Copyright © 2005 by ASME



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