December 12, 2007

From Paper Airplanes to Engineering

SAE Aero Design team allows Clark Britan ’08 to take his education to the next level

Clark Britan ’08 (Falls Church, Va.) is a mechanical engineering major on this year’s SAE Aero Design team. The goal of the senior capstone project is to build a remote control cargo aircraft capable of flying a prescribed distance with as much weight as possible at the annual competition. Guiding the students through the project is Louis Hayden, visiting part-time instructor of mechanical engineering. The following is a personal account of Britan’s experiences.

When I was 10 years old, I spent many weekends flying paper airplanes. I would add flaps to the wings and adjust the angles to see the effects on the flight of the plane. Since then, my interest in aerospace engineering has “skyrocketed.” I am especially interested in aerodynamics. It has always amazed me how airfoils can create such a large lifting force, but before taking fluid dynamics I didn’t have any idea how airfoils create lift. I now appreciate the beauty of Bernoulli’s principle. I now know why a Frisbee floats, why sports cars have spoilers, and why a curve ball curves, all of which used to be mysteries to me.

My interest in aerospace engineering has led me to join Lafayette’s Aero Design Team. The project includes designing and manufacturing a remote control aircraft that can lift the most possible weight, a written report, and an oral presentation. Lafayette has participated in the SAE Aero Design Competition for the past four years with great results. This year we will compete in Marietta, Ga. and we hope to continue Lafayette’s stellar streak.

Our team is split into three groups: aerodynamics, propulsion, and structure. Naturally, I joined the aerodynamics team. We have been working enthusiastically to select an optimal airfoil, predict the drag force of the plane, determine the distance required for take off. We also plan to model the plane in CFdesign and run wind tunnel tests on a prototype made in 3D printer.

Working with Professor Lou Hayden has been a wonderful experience. He has been making and flying RC planes since the 1970’s, so he is extremely knowledgeable on the subject. What I like the most about this project is that the students do everything (make the decisions, build the plane, perform the calculations, etc.), but Professor Hayden is there to answer any questions we have.

The combination of the Aero Design project and my life long interest in aerodynamics has led me to apply for graduate school in aerospace engineering. I am currently applying to 10 different programs across the country. If Lafayette didn’t offer the Aero Design project, my future plans would definitely be different. I’m so thankful for all of the wonderful opportunities Lafayette has to offer.

Last summer, Britan performed forensic ballistics research at The National Institute of Standards and Technology through an undergraduate research fellowship. He is a member of the College’s Ski Racing Team and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He studied abroad in Madrid his sophomore year and is preparing to study Japanese in Tokyo during the winter interim session.

  • AERO Design Project Takes Off
  • Clark Britan ’08 Receives Summer Research Fellowship
  • Aero Design Team Comes Off Successful Year and Works toward Another
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Creative Projects

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