From age four, I was hooked on anything that flew. I read books, built rockets, and flew remote control airplanes when I was young, and constantly tried to understand exactly what goes on to make something that shouldn’t be in the air stay there.
Well, finally, I have the chance to definitively learn why. AME 261, better known as Basic Flight Mechanics, covers everything from a model of our atmosphere to the principles of stability and control of airplanes. The fast-paced class consists of lecture, discussion, and a half-semester long design project where students are presented with a few mission requirements for an airframe, and then are left to design the entirety of the airplane on their own.
While this task seems daunting at first, the preparation and volume of knowledge that this class covers is more than enough to result in a fantastic design portfolio. Even better, the class covers the burning question: “How do planes fly?”.
Another great facet of the class is the mixture between handwritten and MATLAB homework. For those slightly less familiar, MATLAB is a high-level matrix lab “language” that allows users to program specific functions, and, in the case of AME 261, generate relevant plots and calculations of certain performance parameters of aircraft. Since the homework usually requires not only computer programming but also pencil-and-paper work, the connection between practicality of answers and efficiency of programming also builds the engineering skills of judgement, as many valid assumptions can be made (or overlooked) that may or may not result in vastly different design specifications.
And, of course, one of the coolest things is seeing how these principles of performance apply to actual piloting. Most recently, I’ve been flying the Cirrus SR-20, and an added technical understanding of the aircraft never hurts in its operation!