James Larson | Iowa State University
Armstrong Flight Research Center | June 5 – August 11, 2017
WHAT WERE THE GOALS OF THE PROJECT?
The overarching goal of my internship was to assist in the development and testing of the unmanned, 25 foot PRANDTL-D 3c research glider. More specifically, I wanted to improve my creative and critical thinking skills while working on the various tasks I was given over the summer. In addition to this, another goal of mine was to design, fabricate, test, and fly a fairing for the instrumentation bay of the aircraft.
DESCRIBE WHAT YOU DID DURING THE THE INTERNSHIP.
To design the fairing, I had to go through the entire design process from determining the problem and brainstorming solutions to fabricating the part and testing it. Starting with brainstorming, it quickly became apparent that the most aerodynamically optimal solution would be based on the aircraft’s airfoils. I used Microsoft Excel to manipulate the original airfoils to the shape that I wanted and then used Solidworks to create a solid that could be fabricated. Once the design had been finished, my mentor and I used a machine shop outside of NASA to create the mold and the final part. With the part finished in hand, the next step was to test the flight worthiness of the fairing. On top of designing the fairing, I worked on many other side projects within my internship. This included determining the moment of the inertia of the aircraft using a Bifilar Pendulum, writing a MATLAB script that transforms the axis of the inertial measurement unit to the axis of the aircraft, and integrating several different systems within the instrumentation bay of the aircraft.
WHAT WERE YOUR RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS?
The pilot of the research aircraft did a visual inspection to deem it acceptable to fly and the next day we took the aircraft to the flight line for testing. After a few flights the pilot said he could not feel any difference with the fairing attached compared to how the plane flew without the fairing. My mentor gave the okay and no further testing was required. At this point, the fairing had become a flightworthy part that would be used for all further research flights. Ever since that day, the fairing has flown over ten flights with instrumentation on board the aircraft. In every one of those flights the fairing has performed optimally with no unexpected issues.
WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN THROUGHOUT THE PROCESS?
It would be difficult to write down and summarize all the little tips and tricks I learned over this summer from how to mold fiberglass after it has already hardened to why clouds can seem wavy due to the Kelvin-Hemholtz instability. Nevertheless, one of the most important concepts that I learned is to be reasonable when aiming for perfection. In most engineering projects, each subsystem will have a minimum set of requirements that need to be fulfilled for it to function. If you were to only achieve the minimum requirements for all subsystems and one fails, you could have a cascading effect that causes the entire system to fail. On the other hand, if you aim for perfection in all aspects it can drive costs and time requirements higher than what is feasible with the given resources. Thus, for every subsystem, you must collaborate with your colleagues to determine a concise set of goals that both meet the system’s requirements with some margin and are feasible to achieve given the time frame and resources you have been given.