Engineering Design


  • Challenge of Flight

    Examine the forces that act on an airplane in flight, the motions a pilot controls, and the design process engineers use to develop airplanes that manage these flight conditions, in this interactive produced by WGBH and The Documentary Group. The first part of the interactive uses videos, still images, and diagrams to explain the four forces of flight (lift, thrust, drag, and weight) and the three motions an airplane experiences in flight (roll, pitch, and yaw). The second part explores the four primary steps of the design process and the tools today’s aerospace engineers use in their work. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering collection.

    Grades: 7-12
  • Engineer a Jetliner

    Experience the engineering design process as an aerospace engineer assigned to design and test an airplane, in this interactive produced by WGBH and The Documentary Group. Your challenge is to determine which wing and engine configuration is best suited to each of four missions (the defined needs or objectives for the airplane). The first three missions ask you to find airworthy, low-cost, and fuel-efficient designs. The fourth invites you to define your own objective. Consider a range of different wing and engine design solutions—each one rated for build cost, fuel burn, and weight—and choose a configuration to test. Then, depending on your results, refine the design and test again, or move on to the next mission. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Design Innovation for Jet-Powered Flight: The Swept Wing

    Discover the origins of the swept wing and podded engine design, two technologies that helped engineers harness the speed potential of jet engines, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. Today, most jetliners share a common design: wings that sweep back from the body of the plane, with engines mounted beneath them. This design dates back to the end of World War II, when Allied military forces discovered secret German research that had been meant to be destroyed. Swept wings delay the formation of shock waves at higher speeds, and podded engines suspended below the wings help bring wing vibration under control. Together, these technologies enabled stable flight at speeds twice as fast as those that propeller engines had previously generated. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Engineer Profile: Victoria Wilk

    Learn what drew Victoria Wilk, an engineer at The Boeing Company, to a career in aerospace engineering, and learn what airplane designers must account for when designing and testing aircraft, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. Engineers contribute to the world by making practical solutions for society’s needs. Wilk describes her path to engineering and reveals some of the challenges she faced in grasping difficult concepts along the way. After establishing that an airplane’s design is determined by an understanding of how many people it will fly and how far they need to go, Wilk describes the testing that airplanes undergo to ensure they are safe no matter where they fly around the world. She concludes by explaining why working with failure is important in engineering. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Engineer Profile: Tony Castilleja

    Tony Castilleja, a mechanical engineer at The Boeing Company, describes the revolutionary design of the CST-100 Starliner Crew Space Transportation system, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. Castilleja was inspired to become an engineer and design the next-generation spacecraft by watching the Space Shuttle launch as a 12-year-old boy. Today, Castilleja works with mentor engineers who have experience on heritage space programs, including the Shuttle program. The CST-100 Starliner is autonomous, meaning it is designed to launch, dock, and return to Earth without any interaction of a human with the vehicle, and features wireless Internet and tablets, as well as a weldless design and LED “Sky Lighting” technology. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Engineer Profile: Simon Bahr

    Simon Bahr, an engineer at The Boeing Company, explains lift, the force that keeps a plane in the air, and describes the safety testing that planes go through before they are allowed to fly, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. Bahr relates lift to the sensation you feel when you stick a hand out the window of a moving car and demonstrates how lift works using a paper airplane. Next, he details the exhaustive testing planes go through, including the “ultimate load test” of the wing, in which a wing is subjected to 1.5 times the force it will ever experience in flight to prove its strength. Bahr then describes the work at Boeing’s lightning lab, where engineers simulate lightning strikes and learn to safely channel their electrical energy through a plane. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Engineer Profile: Myron Fletcher

    Myron Fletcher, an engineer at The Boeing Company, talks about the Space Launch System (SLS) program and the educational experience that propelled him into his career as a rocket scientist, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. The SLS is a rocket designed to take humans into deep-space exploration. Fletcher, who works in rocket propulsion and knows that a lot of thrust will be needed to get the SLS off the ground, explains his excitement about being involved in the program. He credits his education in Little Rock, Arkansas, in a school with a direct historical connection to the civil rights movement, for allowing him to dream big. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering collection.

    Grades: 6-12

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