ME 310: Playing with ideas


This semester's Fundamentals of Fluid Mechanics class showed off their skills in designing, building, and flying indoor gliders. Teams designed gliders with a $0 budget and using found or recycled materials.

Written by

The 65 students in Professor Leon Liebenberg’s Fundamentals of Fluid Mechanics (ME 310) course recently showed off their skills in designing, building, and flying indoor gliders.

Teams had to design a glider that would advance 21 meters while descending 8 meters to hit a 1-meter-diameter target. They had a $0 budget and had to make use of found or recycled material where possible. A class competition showcasing these low-fidelity prototypes was staged at the Monumental Steps in the Campus Instructional Facility. Each team had two opportunities to show what their gliders could do.

Three teams came close to hitting the target, but only one was successful. The victorious team was comprised of Josh Lipman, George Penn, and Daniel Kawiecki. “This team’s glider was exceptional and their research and analyses were fabulous. They modeled the glider in the Excel environment, complemented by simulations of their chosen airfoil using XFoil software. I could not have asked for more,” said Liebenberg.

The winning team members said, “The most enjoyable moments came in the Siebel Center for Design when we had to carefully construct the skeleton of our wing out of laser cut airfoils and strips of cardboard. The process was long and tedious but well worth the effort. It was really cool to apply our knowledge of fluid dynamics to this glider build.”

Liebenberg, a Teaching Associate Professor in MechSE, consistently features some element of playfulness in all of his classes. “Enjoying a course, having fun, is important to me. But despite the joyful aspect of fun, I also think that students have fun when they discover something new in a familiar situation. Or when they manipulate a familiar object in a new way – and judging by the students’ creative designs and novel manufacturing techniques, I think they had a lot of fun.”

Throughout the course, students performed a series of mini projects, which culminated in the glider project. The mini projects and other course assignments strongly featured sustainability thinking and reflecting on contemporary engineering practices – as well as imagining how things could be done better.

Share this story

This story was published December 12, 2022.