Mechanical engineering Senior Design projects often extend to cover aerospace engineering topics. Due to strong student interest, unmanned flight vehicles in the form of the AIAA DFB competition were introduced into Senior Design at the University of Maine, however students encountered difficulties due to their lack of previous aircraft-design specific preparation. In order to respond to both the interest and this difficulty, multi-copters and lighter than air (LTA) airship projects were introduced in AY 2018-19, and have grown in 2019-20 to account for over 44% of all senior design projects, with half of them being LTA vehicles. The mission and design framework for the LTA vehicles is based on the FAI Chapter 4 section 7 sporting code for radio-controlled airships, with a culminating design competition that further motivates student participation.
LTA vehicles are well suited for mechanical engineering students to explore aerospace topics, as flight vehicle lift generation (traditionally not taught or taught in a very limited fashion in a mechanical engineering curriculum) is replaced by hydrostatic lift, with the associated simplification in aerodynamic design (with drag and notions of added mass being the only consideration) and no requirement for knowledge of aircraft performance and stability and control. Rigid body dynamics, fluid hydrostatics and drag, as well as lightweight structures constitute the core knowledge areas required for the design of these vehicles, and are readily available to senior mechanical engineering students from coursework taken as part of the traditional mechanical engineering curriculum.
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