For undergraduates studying in the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering, the course of study culminates in a year-long capstone design experience in the senior year. Project assignments are developed by industry and government experts, focusing on the design of aircraft, spacecraft, and ships. New this year is a section of the senior capstone course focusing on avionics systems. 

“One of the most surprising facts about our incoming students is how few of them have ever had a close-up look at aircraft systems,” said professor H. Pat Artis. “While most have been passengers on a transport class aircraft, there are always a few who have never even flown. This presents a significant obstacle to students who are in our aircraft capstone design course.” 

Working with the management of the FedEx facility at the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport, Artis and fellow professor Pradeep Raj sought to remedy this issue. For the past five years, students in the aircraft design and now, the avionics systems course, have had the opportunity to tour a Boeing 757 courtesy of FedEx. While onsite, students were able to tour the cockpit, cargo-deck, and examine major systems like the auxiliary power unit, landing gear, and actuators for the flight controls. 

Grant Gonino, a FedEx captain who flies the Roanoke-Memphis route, served as host to the aerospace and ocean engineering department and always delivers a high quality hands-on, minds-on experience for the students. Throughout the tour, Gonino paid particular attention to the aircraft systems, discussing topics ranging from engine out procedures to how lighting is employed to allow a pilot to quickly identify a circuit breaker or other failed system.  Also popular with the students: a demonstration of  the quick-don emergency oxygen mask which supports the pilots in the event of a cabin depressurization.

More than 100 students participated in the tour this fall, along with Artis (avionics systems), and professor Robert Canfield (aircraft design). While the students are studying theory and architecture of these complex systems, the reality of seeing them up close and even touching them solidified their classroom experiences.