Students who interned with the Aeronautics Student Program at Langley, through the Aeronautics Academy or the Aeronautics Scholarship Program, write about their experience.
Aeronautics Academy at Langley, Summer of 2014
Adam K. Weber, Aeronautics Academy 2014 Team Lead, in his own words:
I nearly had a heart attack. Our aircraft got up to speed, lifted itself off the launching dolly for the very first
time, dropped, and scraped the ground with its underside. For a fleeting instant, I thought it had crashed.
However, the tightness in my chest turned to a rush of exhilaration as the UAV bounced off the runway
and soared into the air. Something we had made from scratch with our own hands was flying. There’s no
matching the thrill the twelve of us felt. In ten short weeks, we had taken a handful of vague objectives,
designed, built, and flown an autonomous aircraft.
My summer in the Aeronautics Academy was the most fulfilling experience of my engineering career.
Nothing can come close to the feeling of taking your design on paper and putting it in the air a few weeks
later. Building a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) turned out to be a very interdisciplinary experience. You
need mechanical, electrical, and computer engineers just as much as you need aerospace engineers. In
fact, if it wasn’t for our electrical engineer and computer scientist, we would have floundered. Working and
living, day in and day out, with so many people from so many different educational and personal
backgrounds teaches you so much. I would never be able learn in school the things I learned in the
Academy. There’s no aerospace course to teach you how to set up an autopilot, conduct search and
rescue missions, or determine the health of a farmer’s crops. NASA and the Academy provide students
the opportunity to do things they never dreamed they could.
For me, it was much more than an educational experience; it was also a summer of personal growth. I
was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be team lead for this project. It was up to me to organize
the team, make schedules and set deadlines, delegate jobs, read reports, and manage crises, all while
helping engineer our UAV. Interacting daily with my wonderful teammates and all the incredible
professionals around us taught me what sort of person I want to be, reenforced so many of my values,
and changed me for the better. I was given a crash course in crisis management that showed me that
keeping a positive attitude is a necessity when you have teammates that depend on you. The Academy
teaches you things about yourself you never knew before.
I’d be remiss if I led you to believe we did this all on our own; we had an incredible support system behind
us. Any employee that we came across was more than happy to help us with whatever we needed. They
would sit down and advise us, let us borrow parts, and go out of their way to make sure we were
successful. That’s just another great thing about working at NASA–your team is much bigger than the
people you work with everyday. It’s everyone who works here.
I’d like to thank everyone who made this experience possible for myself and my team: Dr. Elizabeth Ward
for doing anything and everything for us, Samuel James for his seemingly infinite skills, Brenton
Weathered and Jeff Hill for making sure we got in the air, and Bonnie Bryant and the Michigan Space
Grant for giving me the chance to be here.
2016 Update: Adam will graduate with a Master’s Degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in May of 2016. Adam presented the 2014 Aeronautics Academy team project at the 2016 AIAA SciTech conference in San Diego, California, January 2016. Adam will start full time as an engineer for the aerospace industry soon after graduation.
Jesse Brady, ground crew and precision agriculture mission specialist, in his own words:
Working with the Langley Aeronautics Academy was the best summer of my life. Before I traveled to Langley from Anchorage Alaska, one of my favorite professors, who worked at NASA Marshall early in his career, told me that what I was about to see would amaze me. He was absolutely right. During the ten weeks that I was at NASA’s Langley Research Center, the Academy was able to tour numerous NASA facilities from the wind tunnels (such as the vertical spin, transonic dynamics, and high temperature) to state of the art flight simulators that we were allowed to test fly.
Additionally, we were exposed to applications of engineering outside of NASA, such as when we met with two fighter pilots and were taken to see their F-22 jets, or when we toured a nuclear submarine. These real world applications of engineering were inspirational; however, the single thing that impressed me the most was the people who worked at Langley. It was great to intern in an environment where I was constantly surrounded by some of the world’s leading scientists and engineers. Everyone at Langley was passionate about their projects and they had a contagious excitement for life and learning. I was able to meet with several senior researchers this summer, and I was overwhelmed by their kindness to pause their work and take the time to get to know me and give me academic advice.
I learned a lot this summer through networking with the professionals at Langley, but something that I didn’t expect was how much I would learn from my peers. It was great to be immersed in a multi-disciplinary environment. This provided the opportunity to work together with 11 other students who were highly intelligent and qualified, coming from different backgrounds and disciplines of engineering who shared my excitement for aviation and exploration. Every aspect of the Aeronautics Academy was organized to promote team building. We all lived at the same place, and in turn we ended up doing nearly everything together for ten weeks. We carpooled to work, spent time on extracurricular activities like being involved in a robotics competition and playing in a volleyball tournament, and then on the weekends we all explored together, often going camping in Virginia’s national parks. We all became lifelong friends, and I think this was the greatest factor in our team successfully completing our design, build, and fly mission. We inevitably faced unforeseen challenges, such as changed dates and deadlines, and technical complications, but it was our genuine care for each other that allowed us to keep a positive attitude and work together to overcome these obstacles.
Researching with the Langley Aeronautics Academy was the most academically inspirational experience of my life. I am excited to return to school and continue learning so that I am able to contribute more to my next team project.
I would like to thank everyone who made this year’s project a possibility and a success.
Perhaps the greatest advice I was given during my summer at Langley was to pursue what excites me.
If there are any students reading this who are interested in engineering or who desire to join the Langley Aeronautics Academy, I extend the same advice to you.
2016 update: Jesse Brady is a Senior studying Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He served as a NASA Pathways Intern at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center from January to August 2015 and recently accepted a full time position as an engineer at Armstrong Flight Research Center.