The culmination of all that my cohort and I have learned in our Aerospace Engineering Management module was brought into practice today during a full day wing build challenge. Beginning at 9 a.m. with groups being randomly pre-selected by the module leader, we were informed only that the wing we were about to build must be completed by 12:30 and provided with an instruction sheet as found in the attachment below. Alongside the instructions was a small pile of resources such as craft knives, a coping saw, paper and pencils and the building materials as listed.  As a starting point, I began by reading the instruction sheet aloud clearly and slightly slower than normal to ensure it was heard and understood by all. After reading the instructions and clearly reiterating the key factors such as the dimensional limitations, we began to decipher just what had been provided and what would need requesting from the directing staff.

Design-Build-Test Brief & Working

On satisfying ourselves the equipment provided was sufficient to make a start we then discussed the fundamental components of a semi-monocoque wing, such as spars, stringers, ribs and the skin. Postulating various design ideas by visual alignment of the wood pieces meant that everyone had an input and could identify clearly the suggestions put forward. As the ideas became more forthcoming, and their individual strengths and weaknesses were voiced by those who could see them, the overall team design began to take shape. Noting that as helpful as aligning the workpieces together was, we needed a way to more simply and clearly represent the design and its evolution; I therefore reached for some paper and a pencil to begin sketching the ideas out. In doing so I felt that the work became more focused as it was not just simply a discussion but a move in the direction of real, tangible, work.

Having recognised that we had been provided with pre-cut ribs I opted to trace one out as it would be both easier to draw and offered a near scale representation of a design cross-section. From this point forward the design evolved further as can be seen in the attached workings above, and as the design headed towards a final product I steered the group towards assigning tasks. Suggesting that I go and photocopy the rib design to ensure the template was the same each time, the rest of the team, directed by one of the other members, set about the other tasks. On returning, myself and another member opted to start cutting the ribs whilst the rest of the team cut to length and arranged the remaining materials.

Image courtesy of Aamir Ashraf 2018

As time progressed, at least one other member of the members of the team, including myself, drove forward the team’s efforts and ensured that whilst working on the present task the next one was thought out and ready to be implemented. This became particularly apparent when the option of skin material was expanded from sheet balsa to various papers. Deciding that the strength of the wing was the ultimate goal, we opted for a sheet balsa skin which required brief research into how to form it around curved sections. Learning that it required soaking for up to an hour ideally other members of the team self-assigned themselves to the task ensuring a smooth workflow, which ultimately meant the wing was suitably assembled with glue setting time amply accounted for during the lunch break. Concurrently, I myself had taken a step back momentarily to ensure that no further tasks had been overlooked. As it happened there was an expectation to provide ballpark figures from a range of numerical calculations, particularly those regarding the maximum mass the wing could be loaded with, (from which it’s strength to weight ratio could be calculated) and additionally the expected Lift to Drag ratio which would be tested in the wind tunnel.

Having realised that this work should be conducted at the same time as the build, and recognising that there were more hands manufacturing than required, I self-assigned myself the task. Having also been one of the first people to dedicate myself to this role it became apparent at the end of the day when comparisons were made that although our wing itself did not stand up to much scrutiny, my calculations were perhaps some of the most accurate of the cohort. This highlights to me, that on reflection, although to some it may have appeared that I was perhaps not as forwardly participatory as my peers, the work conducted was actually very relevant and proved to be of the highest quality. I feel that this was my greatest strength today, as the vast majority of my peers throughout the cohort were so excited and inwardly involved with the wing building itself, they often failed to recognise the importance of the other tasks and lost sight of the overall project image. Ironically, to coincide with this behaviour from my colleagues, my greatest shortcoming today was proved in my failure to communicate the importance of my workings which resulted in a team member opting for an additional kilogram mass to be applied to our wing during load testing, causing its untimely structural failure. Although I had already calculated that such a mass would be over and above the wings yield stress, I clearly did not effectively communicate the importance of these calculations which ultimately lead to the preventable error.

Load Testing

This latter point highlights to me the importance of not only effective communication, yet again, but also that of trust. A balance must often be struck between hounding someone to ensure your relevant information has been received and also in trusting that they will stop to think the course of their actions through before embarking on conducting them. Perhaps the lesson reiterated by my colleagues here is that having tunnel vision for a single area of interest can compromise your ability to understand it’s position in the overall project. At the same time, it highlights to me the necessity to deliberately if necessary take a firmer stance with any individuals you can see have become detrimentally engrossed in the task to ensure that mistakes don’t happen. Had the task of been real, as engineers there’s often lives on the line.

Feedback from this task, where marks provided are out of 5, can be found here.

Image courtesy of Aamir Ashraf 2018

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