Did You Know?: Hangar of the Future Research Laboratory

October 23, 2015  


(From left) Alex Thill, a Purdue student in aeronautical engineering technology; Tim Ropp, clinical associate professor of aeronautical engineering technology; Mike Davis, assistant professor of aeronautical engineering technology; and Yiwen Liu, a Purdue student in aeronautical engineering technology, review checklist procedures for starting the engines on the School of Aviation and Transportation Technology's large jet while testing augmented reality assisted visual checklists and advanced work instructions created by the students. (Purdue University photo/Rebecca Wilcox)
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With augmented reality goggles and sensor-embedded aircraft prototype parts, Hangar 1 in the Niswonger Aviation Technology Building feels like the set of the latest sci-fi movie, but this lab is anything but fiction -- it's the Hangar of the Future Research Laboratory.

The Hangar of the Future was established in 2009 as a way to generate "next generation" student and faculty research and development projects whose goals mirror the incredible advancement of the aerospace and air transportation industry's "smart" air vehicles, propulsion systems and airports.

"Students working in the hangar get introduced to real industry problems associated with airport, ramp and air vehicle maintenance operations," says Tim Ropp, clinical associate professor of aeronautical engineering technology and director of the Aerospace and MRO Technology Innovation Center at Purdue. "They are then unleashed to explore, test and evaluate crazy innovative solutions in real time on our own live lab aircraft and power plant labs."

Undergraduate students in the School of Aviation and Transportation Technology become involved in the laboratory through an independent study option with limited space. Students are placed on a research team based on their interests and also may partner with other college areas, such as computer graphics technology or industrial technology. Recent students in the program have worked on hybrid 3-D graphics-based air vehicle work instructions and 3-D print air vehicle replacement parts.

"Everything the students work on is also recognized by industry and up to the minute relevant," Ropp says. "The operational challenges that industry grapples with become the actual Hangar of the Future projects with real application and solution goals."

Students not only get to tackle real industry problems on real airplanes at a real airport, they also have the opportunity to publish their work with faculty in academic journals and present their work to aerospace company leaders. Some students have even had provisional patent submission.

Additionally, Hangar of the Future student research design teams took first place in the Boeing Co.'s 2015 Information Technology Case Competition, receiving their award in Seattle. Their innovative project designs for safety and efficiency of aviation operations have also allowed the teams to win and place multiple times in the Federal Aviation Administration's National Design Competition for Universities.

Despite the cutting-edge research emerging from this lab, Ropp believes that the most innovative products coming out of the facility are the students.

"Hangar of the Future is physically small. But the student competencies it helps shape are huge," Ropp says. "I can't describe the thrill of watching them ignite. You can just see the Purdue DNA come through -- our legacy of producing pioneers and thought leaders in aerospace and aviation."

Writer: Emily Sigg, esigg@purdue.edu 

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