Flight Simulator Allows Engineering Students to Experience the Aerodynamics They Study

Abstract calculations come to near-reality for aerospace engineering students enrolled in Professor James McDaniel’s course, which is already attracting new majors.

Flight Simulator - Haley Kosheff and Prof McDaniels

Student Haley Kosheff practices a maneuver as professor James McDaniel observes. (Photos by Sanjay Suchak – University Communications)

I’m freaking out; my hands are actually sweating,” said third-year aerospace engineering student Aidan Thayer as he practiced a stall in a Cessna 172 airplane.

Fortunately for Thayer, the “Cessna” was actually a flight simulator in a lab at the University of Virginia’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department.

The machine simulates flight so realistically that it can be used as a ground-based flight trainer for future pilots. But its primary purpose at UVA is to enhance the learning experience of students in a third-year “Flight Vehicle Dynamics” course – the theory of aircraft flight – taught by aerospace engineering Professor James McDaniel.

Thayer, one of McDaniel’s students, was vividly learning the effects of a stall, something he had studied in theory through calculations in class. He now was able to compare his classroom work to a seemingly very real experience in the lab.

“This is so cool,” he said.

MAE students are flocking to The Theory of Aircraft Flight. The course features a full-motion flight simulator that can simulate 12 airplane models and more than 250 airports around the world, as well as various weather conditions such as winds, clouds, icing and turbulence. Professor McDaniel was an air-sea rescue pilot in the Air Force. “This is one lab the students really enjoy coming to,” he says. “We are the only engineering school in the country using a serious flight simulator to enhance the aerospace engineering learning experience.” Students learn to read and interpret flight instruments and can feel the “aircraft” move in response to their maneuvers. Using their advanced knowledge from this class, a team of UVA aerospace seniors designed an all-electric general aviation vehicle called BLITZ for the 2016 NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate Design Challenge. Their design was awarded first place by NASA, the fifth UVA aircraft design national championship (as well as four 2nd place finishes) for student teams advised by Prof. McDaniel for MAE!

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