Students in Clarkson University's Analysis of Aircraft Structures class will benefit from an exciting new aspect of the course, related to a change in class delivery method necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The AE350 course is being taught online this semester, so Assistant Professor of Mechanical & Aeronautical Engineering Craig Merrett has redesigned the course to enhance opportunities for the aeronautical engineering juniors to feel more connected to each other and to the wider aerospace community.
For the past four years, AE 350 classes have applied structural analyses to an aircraft in a semester-long group project with teams of students each studying a different aircraft.
This year, Merrett has enhanced this aspect of the class's online version in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of World War II's end and the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. He has enlisted 10 aircraft museums across the United States and Canada to participate in the group projects by offering one aircraft from their WWII collection for a group to analyze.
"Connecting with the museums was driven by COVID because I wanted to find a way to make an online course more engaging," says Merrett. "Having access to Zoom provided the infrastructure needed to make the project a reality."
The students will interact with the museum's curators and restoration experts on a regular basis to learn the history of each aircraft and collect technical data to complete their analyses.
"For students to have the ability to pair a real-world application to their education not only makes learning more exciting, but creates skills that will be needed for a talented future workforce," says Catherine Gonzalez, education director of the Cradle of Aviation Museum.
Merrett says that the project will help the students develop their structural analyses skills for a real aircraft, and their communication skills for both technical and non-technical audiences. "It will also help our students to feel more connected at a time when many may be restricted to a few rooms," he adds.
“Partnering our Avro Lancaster KB882, a veteran of the Second World War and post-war photographic reconnaissance, with the students is an exciting new opportunity for us," says Laura Imrie, curator of the National Air Force Museum of Canada. "It is our hope that the students' research and analysis will allow us better insight into the physical structure of our Lancaster, and how it has been impacted by its service in the RCAF and subsequent static display. As we continue its restoration, this information will aid in its preservation, allowing it to be displayed for generations to come."
Merrett says that the museums are excited by the opportunity since they had to cancel or reduce their planned WWII commemoration activities due to COVID. "Working with our students will enable the museums to recognize the anniversary through a different medium."
Most of the museums usually interact with K-12 classes and have not interacted with a university engineering program before, so they are eager to explore the new educational opportunity.
"We look forward to virtually transporting your team of students the 1,323 miles from Potsdam to Topeka, serving as their eyes, ears and hands as we help them explore our 1943 Beech SNB-5, better known in the civilian world as a Beech 18," says Kevin Drewelow, director of the Combat Air Museum. "This will be the museum's inaugural foray into virtual or distance learning and we'll have Clarkson to thank for helping us pioneer this new method at our facility. By studying vintage aircraft structures, Clarkson-educated aero engineers will be better prepared to create the aerospace structures of the future."
The 10 participating museums are: Alaska Aviation Museum, Anchorage, Alaska; Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, Mount Hope, Ontario; Combat Air Museum in Topeka, Kan.; Cradle of Aviation Museum, Garden City, N.Y.; Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum, San Diego, Calif.; National Air Force Museum of Canada, Astra, Ontario; National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, Fla.; New England Air Museum, Windsor Locks, Conn.; National Warplane Museum, Geneseo, N.Y.; and Planes of Fame Air Museum, Chino, Calif.
Several other museums, like the National Museum of the United States Air Force and the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force will connect with the class during their project presentations in October.