MakerPlane and STEM/SHSM
I saw an interesting blog post that mentioned MakerPlane and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) by Al Chirinian. In the article he discussed the potential of using open source aviation in the classroom and the ability to use the resources to teach a wide range of aviation subjects.
“Thanks to open source hardware and software, many teachers are finding ways to make these programs cost effective once again, by using open source hardware that allows for inexpensive desktop 3D printing, and CNC conversions for older manual machines. Software to control these machines and designing things to be made with them is also possible using open source platforms. What’s next? How about open source aviation? Makerplane is a group that believes if they provide an open source design for a small airplane, flying in one’s own aircraft will become an achievable goal for everyone, not just the wealthy. Their intent is to use manufacturing methods such as 3D printing and personal CNC machines that are now available at reasonable cost to create safe, affordable airplanes. Makerplane’s plans include low cost, open source avionics hardware and software as well. Translating this philosophy to the needs of the STEM classroom poses some interesting opportunities to bring aviation and its many ties to STEM into schools on a level not seen in decades. We’re not talking model airplanes or tiny quadracopters here folks, as cool as they are. Aviation is a multidisciplinary field with many STEM related career pathways. If an open source hardware solution to aviation becomes a reality, schools will be able to generate a cornucopia of aeronautical engineers, aviation mechanics, fabricators, pilots and entrepreneurs that will help build the ranks of STEM innovators sooner than later.”
Of course I am biased and completely agree!
In Canada, the nearest equivalent of STEM is SHSM, which stands for “Specialist High Skills Major”. Interestingly, the program includes funding for Aviation/Aerospace and is generally funded by the Provinces. The Ontario Aviation and Aerospace SHSM program is outlined here. So what topics could you teach using MakerPlane open source resources? (Remember that MakerPlane will provide the CAD and CAM files for the aircraft as well as avionics plans for free so STEM/SHSM programs will have a very good head start.)
- Print out a MakerPlane aircraft model on a 3D printer (when we make the files available!) and use it to teach the principles of 3D printing, and then the principles of flight using the model.
- Print out scale models of aircraft parts for demonstration of various principles, for example a cut-away model of flight controls, or an engine.
- Build a flight simulator based on the open source MakerPlane CAD files and a copy of Lockheed Martin Prepar3D (OK, I am definitely biased on that as the past Principal Engineer on this when I was at Lockheed!). If you want to go completely open source, use Flight Gear!
- Build open source avionics projects using arduino and embedded systems and make some changes to the source code to show both hardware and software engineering in practice.
- Use the avionics constructed to show flight instrument principles and usage.
- Connect the avionics to the flight simulation software to test and QA the equipment and challenge the students.
- Build a MakerPlane to inspire the kids on a real aircraft.
- Use CNC machines and 3D printers to manufacture the parts.
- Teach how to operate and maintain advanced digital manufacturing equipment.
- Make a non-structural enhancement to the CAD files and show implementation from conception to installation. (for example, a new throttle knob, door handle or cup holder).
- Show engineering disciplines at work.
- Show the various systems and sub-systems that are needed in an aircraft.
- Build a series of MakerPlane aircraft to create a fleet for use by the school and/or to sell to help fund the programme.
- Learn material sciences, composite construction techniques and testing of materials.
- Use MakerPlane as an R&D platform to explore different propulsion systems and materials.
- Use MakerPlane for non-engineering challenges such as interior design!
- Use MakerPlane to show the various career options available in the world of aviation.
I am sure that there are many other ideas to utilize MakerPlane resources in the classroom. We are still a little bit ahead of ourselves as we begin to generate the content needed to support STEM/SHSM initiatives, so these are just a few ideas to start a discussion.