For one group of students from Marlborough High School in Massachusetts it’s not been an average spring term. They’ve been given a challenge: to design a low-carbon-emission and environmentally friendly two-man sport aircraft that can fly at 1000 feet from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton Ohio.
The Real World Design Challenge (RWDC), which began in 2008, is growing rapidly and has attracted White House attention. “In another five or ten years this will be the premier engineering program,” says James Brough, national education program manager for the Federal Aviation Administration.
RWDC is partnership between industry, government, academia, and non-profit aimed at increasing the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce.
“In the aerospace industry we are facing a crucial shortage of trained aerospace personnel,” Brough says. “Within the next decade we will not have enough people with the proper skills to fill the jobs today, so this competition is of vital importance to the industry and to the country.
“We get amazing feedback from the kids,” Brough continues. “From last year’s winning team we had some students who said, ‘I just did this out of curiosity, and now I want to be an aerospace engineer.'”
The annual competition for high school students provides the opportunity to work on pressing real-world engineering challenges in a team environment. Each year, student teams are asked to address a challenge that confronts our nation’s leading industries.
Students, like those from Marlborough High School, work with professional engineering software to develop their solutions, and every teacher that participates gets $1 million in engineering software along with training, curriculum materials, and access to mentors.
“A lot of times in school we don’t understand what we’re learning and so we tune out,” Brough says. “In this challenge students take all the abstract concepts they’re learning in math and science and they’re applying it to the real world.”
The Real World Design Challenge—which focuses mainly on the aerospace industry—starts with a state-level competition. Teams from all over the United States compete to win an all-expenses paid trip to the national finals in Washington, DC.
After the state challenge, winning teams must hone their designs even further by running aerodynamic, propulsion, sizing, and weight and balance analyses to optimize the aircraft for the national mission. In addition, teams must provide a 2,000-word essay on what they would see and do given the opportunity to fly their aircraft design on the mission from Kitty Hawk to Dayton Ohio.
At the Washington DC finals this month the top three teams will present their designs to a panel of Blue Ribbon leaders from government, industry, and higher education at the National Air and Space Museum. Teams who don’t place in the top three will be given merit awards for innovation, teamwork and impact on student STEM interest, among other things.
We wish Marlborough High School and the other competing teams the best of luck in Washington DC!