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NASA Interns Soar Into Flight Testing

August 6, 2010

Eight high school students who participated in the INSPIRE internship program at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center this summer learned first-hand about the start-to-finish process of flight testing experimental aircraft.

NASA Dryden controls and dynamics engineer Brian Taylor, who served as mentor to the INSPIRE interns, said the students modeled, tested, and analyzed the aerodynamic and mass properties of a large model aircraft called the Dryden Remotely Operated Integrated Drone ““ or DROID ““ while going through the Dryden flight-approval process. The process included a series of technical reviews, safety analyses, development of mission rules and flight operations before conducting actual data-collection flights.

They then completed two days of flight tests in late July totaling nearly two hours of flight time on the DROID aircraft. All planned test points were completed during 13 short flights at the Muroc Model Masters model aircraft flight operations area on the north side of Rosamond Dry Lake. The students then analyzed the data transmitted from sensors on the aircraft, comparing the results to their models.

While one group of students flight tested the aircraft to determine the takeoff distance, best rate of climb, thrust required for level flight, and lift to drag ratios, the other group performed inertia swings on the aircraft in order to determine its mass properties.

NASA Dryden operations engineer Leslie Monforton of Tybrin Corp., who flew the aircraft for the students’ flight-test project, found the experience rewarding.

“It was a privilege working with these gifted students, both in coaching and flying the DROID for them,” she said. “They all will have a great future.”

INSPIRE ““ an acronym for Interdisciplinary National Science Project Incorporating Research and Education Experience ““ is a multi-tiered year-round program designed for students in ninth-to-12th grades who are interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education and careers.

“The INSPIRE summer internship program provides the opportunity for students interested in careers in engineering to get direct project experience prior to entering their senior year of high school or first semester of college,” said Kendra Titus, Student & Faculty Programs Coordinator at NASA Dryden’s Office of Education.

The DROID aircraft used in the INSPIRE flight tests is one of four such aircraft at Dryden used for research and for pilot training on remote-controlled aircraft.

Image Caption: INSPIRE students and their mentors Leslie Monforton and Brian Taylor (second and third from left) prepare one of NASA Dryden’s DROID large model aircraft for flight above Rosamond Dry Lake.

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