Fairfield University's School of Engineering honors students with Dean's Award for designing lightweight sport aircraft


Image: Engineering students receive awardA survivor locator light to help with Coast Guard rescue efforts, a helicopter tail bumper, and a power and heat generator for suburban homes were just some of the capstone projects that Fairfield University School of Engineering graduating seniors created this year as part of the important Senior Design course.

The 2012 Dean's Award - for the design project that stood above all the others - was given to four graduates who built a cost effective solution to satisfy the growing demand for lightweight, affordable recreational sports crafts in the consumer aviation market. John Burke, of Wilton, Conn., Clare McManus, of Harrison, N.Y., Kevin Richard, of Shelton, Conn., and Neil Rodrigues, of Framingham, Mass., received the prize for "Light Sport Aircraft Using 4-Stroke Engine,' a vehicle partly made in the School's laboratories. Dr. Ryan Munden, assistant professor of electrical engineering, served as the students' mentor and Dr. Shahrokh Etemad, chair of the mechanical engineering department, was their advisor.

The students developed the craft in response to a challenge posed each fall to all seniors. Students are asked to create products or processes that are very much needed in the marketplace but have not been invented yet, such as tools or vehicles that are desired by a segment of the population.

Jack W. Beal, Ph.D., dean of the School of Engineering, said the design projects at the undergraduate level, and the similarly themed capstone projects at the graduate student level, test students engineering knowledge in every way. The winning aircraft's design incorporates Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards for flight certification, and the students even received a NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium grant worth $3,000 for the project. "They actually produced the first hardware phase of the project - not just a paper design," said Dr. Beal.

Image: Engineering students receive awardBy using a relatively inexpensive, yet extremely powerful Yamaha motorcycle engine – and meeting quality and safety standards - the team succeeded in fabricating a manned, weight-shift control craft. Although not yet ready to fly, the aircraft will likely be taken up as a new senior design project come fall. Among the goals will be preparing it for FAA tests.

The greatest challenge was to design for manufacturability. "In other words, since we were undertaking such a large project and building all parts from scratch, we had to make sure that what we designed in [Computer-Aided Design] and on paper could be physically realized," said Burke, who is working at Goodrich ISR Systems of Danbury, Conn., as an electronic components engineer.

Two team members were already interning in the aerospace industry when they decided to embark on the project. "I believe we won because we used our passion for engineering to create something that clearly showed the hours of dedication and hard work we put into this project," said McManus.

It was the ultimate learning experience. "The knowledge from this project will be great to reflect on and of use in our careers," said Richard, who is doing a summer internship at Covidien Surgical Devices as a supplier development engineer.

For Rodrigues, who is pursuing graduate studies in Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University with a research assistantship in the study of gas turbines, the biggest challenge was personal. "I have worked to persevere through a stutter almost my entire life.  I was particularity inspired for the final presentation, because it fell during National Stuttering Awareness Week. I hope to inspire others to believe in themselves, just as so many persons have inspired me."

Among the impressive designs presented by students were a human powered vehicle; an automated microplate work cell for researchers; a rainhandler; ball bearing lapping system; an automated syringe filling machine for manufacturers; and a rotating tank for visualizing ocean dynamics and understanding currents.

Images: Top) The Fairfield University School of Engineering's Dean's Award for best Senior Design project went to a team of students who built a recreational aircraft. Left to Right: Neil Rodrigues, Dr. Ryan Munden, John Burke, Kevin Richard, Clare McManus and Dr. Shahrokh Etemad. Bottom) Mechanical Engineers majors George Romania'12, right, and Musruk Saddique'12 in discussion with Fairfield University President Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., about their Human Powered Vehicle that was in contention for the annual Dean's Award. It was developed under the Senior Design Project course with Professor McFadden (mentor) and Dr. Etemad (advisor), and presented at the 12th annual Sigma Xi Poster Session, a student research forum, organized by the Office of Student Engagement and Dr. Jim Biardi, department of Biology and president of the Fairfield University Chapter of Sigma Xi.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on June 18, 2012

Vol. 44, No. 319