Boeing's AerosPACE fly-off celebrates year-long collaboration

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What will tomorrow's workplace demand of today’s aerospace engineering students?

AerosPACE, a project launched by the Boeing Company, has given Georgia Tech aerospace engineering students an answer they won’t find in their statics textbooks.

“Effective collaboration – across different engineering disciplines, different cultures even different time zones – is the biggest challenge in today’s business world,” says Marcus Nance, one of several Boeing executives who oversees the AerosPACE (Partners for  Advancement of Collaborative Engineering) program.

It's all about collaboration. From left, ASDL grad student Tom Neuman, Purdue grad student Andy Yu, and AE undergraduate Kevin Murtha. 

“At Boeing, we have a 24-hour workforce, with engineers collaborating on the same project all around the world. Today’s students will need to have collaboration skills to succeed.”

Those skills were everywhere apparent to Nance and his Boeing colleagues on April 17, when they visited Atlanta to review the results of a year-long AerosPACE project that required Georgia Tech ASDL students to collaborate with their peers at Brigham Young, Purdue, and Embry Riddle universities.

Their task?

ASDL's Dimitri Mavris accepts the ASEE award from Boeing Associate Technical Fellow Dr. Michael Richey

Using different materials, each team had to design, build, test, and deploy a UAV that is capable of accurately monitoring agricultural crops and delivering useful information on irrigation, pesticide use, and vegetative health.

Three of the schools were responsible for physically housing one of the UAVs during the construction process, but the project teams were composed of students from every school. Each student had to contribute to the concept, design, testing, and deployment of at least one UAV -- even if it was physically located hundreds of miles away.

There were some site visits – in late March, Embry Riddle students came to Tech to ‘lay up the skin’ for the carbon fiber model – but, for the most part, students had to consult remotely.

That meant a lot of late-night emails, phone calls, Webexes and Skypes, as the budding aerospace engineers learned how to negotiate across three different time zones. Along the way, they learned how to drop school loyalties and embrace project excellence.

“We had to get over the ‘camp’ mindset, where there was a Camp Purdue, Camp Tech, or a Camp Embry Riddle,” said ASDL graduate student Tom Neuman, who previously worked cross-locationally for Rolls Royce, Sikorsky, and Boeing.

With the support of Stratosys, the Purdue-based AerosPACE team produced what is believed to be the largest UAV made entirely from a 3D printer. As with all of the teams in this project, the Purdue-based team had participants from all four schools, including Georgia Tech.

“We had to come together to come up with a better process for finding solutions and distributing work.”

Neuman’s thoughts were echoed by his mentor, ASDL Director Dimitri Mavris.

“That’s the way it is when you work on a large project,” Mavris said. “You surrender your badge at the door so you can work for the optimal outcome. And that’s what they did. There was no BYU or Purdue or Embry Riddle teams. There was just one team, and three working groups.”

Boeing Associate Technical Fellow Dr. Michael Richey said a growing number of new technologies support collaborative work. He pointed out that the students in this project were given access to a newly developed CAD/CAM tool that allows multiple users to simultaneously review design changes from different locales.

Still, he said, the biggest challenges are the ones that no technology can fully address.

“What the workforce of today needs are engineers who know how to incorporate their in-depth knowledge into a complex system, constructively using the knowledge of each contributor. It demands a very dynamic leadership style, one that is flexible.”

Competitiveness – a great fuel if used in moderation – was not the main goal here.

“In this project we knew were bringing together students who had great knowledge in different domains, and we didn’t want the universities to compete. So we purposely gave them an ill-structured problem – one where they would have to collaborate closely to come up with an innovative solution,” he said.


At the April 17 fly-off, Richey, Nance, and all of their colleagues were obviously pleased with the results. And they weren’t the only ones.

The Corporate Membership Council of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) bestowed its Excellence in Engineering Collaboration award on all AerosPACE participants.

But, even as the blue crystal trophies were handed to the project leaders, it was Marcus Nance who best captured the spirit of the event:

“I’m sure there were times over the last year when you thought – ‘I can’t do this.’ But then you went ahead and did it anyway. Well, that’s the way it is in the real world. All the time. And you proved you can do it.”

Aerospace students from Georgia Tech, Embry Riddle, Purdue, and Brigham Young came together to work on three UAVs under the auspices of Boeing's AerosPACE program. (Shown here are two of the final products and their prototypes. The third model was tested earlier this week at Brigham Young.)



  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Britanny Grace
  • Created:07/15/2015
  • Modified By:Fletcher Moore
  • Modified:10/07/2016