The role of radio-controlled model airplanes in the education of aerospace engineers

Kathy Schmidt Jackson, Mark David Maughmer, Benjamin T. Pipenberg, Nicholas Jared Grasser, Stephen Van Wert

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Students enter our classrooms with a wide variety of backgrounds and experience. There was a time when students came into engineering with a tinkering background (hands-on experience and familiarity with the use of tools), but today's students spend more time experiencing the world virtually. In aerospace engineering, students who have spent time flying airplanes, radio-controlled models, and/or model rockets are able to relate concepts they learn in class to things they have seen or experienced first-hand. For example, a student who is a pilot and has experienced a stall seems to have more interest in boundary layers and flow separation because of their time in the cockpit. The experience gained in flying radio-controlled models provides a degree of intuition that helps students better understand, for example, the importance of properly sizing the tail of an airplane. In an effort to provide more students with such practical and enriching experiences, aerospace engineering students at Penn State University have been provided the opportunity to fly radio-controlled airplanes in a special projects class. This class is unique in that students are generally enrolled in it from their first-year through graduation and normally take it every semester during their undergraduate programs. This paper describes the benefit of flying radio-controlled aircraft on improving the understanding of certain aerospace engineering concepts. In order to get a better insight into the impact of this activity, students responded to a survey to gauge how they perceived the use of the airplanes and to see how their thinking about aerodynamics changed. With an emphasis on hands-on and applied learning, students are able to make deeper connections between what is being taught and how it is applied in the world beyond the classroom.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
Volume122nd ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition: Making Value for Society
Issue number122nd ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition: Making Value for...
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015
Event2015 122nd ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Seattle, United States
Duration: Jun 14 2015Jun 17 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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