Redbull hangár

Redbull hangár

2011. november 25., péntek

House of applied science - Visit at Joanneum university’s aviation department

I. part

Text and photos: Gabriella

Joachim is one of those friends, whom I can owe my interest in airplanes. We met two years ago on the train on my way back from the Austrian military airshow. It has turned out soon, that he is not only a fan of aviation, but it is the main direction of his life, as he is studying aviation engineering. He told me gripping stories about his studies and his school, Joanneum university in Graz with a real enthusiasm, so I decided to check myself if it is really a special place for education of future aircraft engineers. Decision was followed by deed, so after setting a report making appointment with the aviation department, I travelled to my favorite Austrian city, Graz. Joachim undertook to be my guide at the university and gave me excellent tips what to see and whom to speak.
If you follow all the 4 parts of my report, you can learn the test lab with all of its fascinating devices and the ongoing researches, get more information about the unmanned aerial vehicle project (JXP) and the quadrocopter, see a real jet, understand why applied math and physics are so important and learn the teachers’ opinion about the present and the future of aviation. Last but not least, you can read an interview with Joachim who can tell you his view about the education and his motivation to choose his profession.

Main building of the university - photo: FH Joanneum

Starting with the dessert – the test lab and the flight simulator

Ms. Schuss from the PR department provided great support in organizing the interviews with the teachers and also sent me useful materials about the aviation department which helped my preparation a lot. The most important what you have to know about this department: you can choose two specialisations in the Bachelor program: Piloting and Aeronautical Engineering, and later in the master program: Aeronautical Engineering or Aviation Management. The Master degree program started this year and it is possible to join with a Bachelor degree in other technical disciplines. During the semesters, students can learn such courses as Hydraulics and Pneumatics, Advanced Aerodynamics, Statistics and Data Analysis, Jet-Propulsion Technology, Human Factors, etc. The specialisations of the Master degree program can be studied in Austria only here and what I saw at Joanneum, seemed very special to me. Not just because of the rich technical facilities, but also because of the enthusiasm of the teachers. They spoke about their field with passion which amazed me.

The icing facility with Mr. Jauk and Mr Tramposch (from left to right) - the little chamber is at Mr Tramposch's left elbow

We started our tour at the university with the test laboratory and the flight simulator. Two lecturers joined us to show the equipments: Simon Jauk and Andreas Tramposch, who are maybe the youngest teachers at this department. (I will introduce them and their exciting ongoing projects in the fourth part of the report.)
I recognized the icing facility first. The device is quite giant, because of its cooling tubes (cold liquid circulation in these tubes provides the cooling), but its test chamber in it is small. It ensures examining the behavior of different material pieces up to -25 Celsius degrees. I saw an oven too, in which they can give a solid form to carbon fiber parts. They use a laser cutting machine to tail precisely the model aircrafts’ wooden braces and a water ray cutting device to the “baked out” carbon parts. Designing and making these parts are an application of lightweight engineering. While these devices are rented, the icing facility was designed and built by the students with the supervision of teachers. And the highlight of the test lab, the flight simulator, was too. Although this simulator is not for pilot training, I could try out how it feels to sit in the captain´s seat of a commercial aircraft and fly a circle above Graz airport. The computer graphics were excellent, I really attached to feel real physical forces at turning and at loosing height. I had to concentrate on many things in the same time: the pedals, the elevator, the joystick and the artificial horizon, but it didn’t go that bad. I’m sure, that with some more practice, I could do it better. But what is this simulator for in fact? Dr. Bernd Messnarz (who is responsible for this device) explained to us later:

The cockpit of the flight simulator

Bernd Messnarz: It has two main purposes, one is teaching, the other one is research. In teaching, the students can …for example we have lectures like Flight Mechanics, Flight Control Systems. In Flight Control Systems, students can experience how an autopilot algorithm works. They learn that more or less theoretically, then they can use the flight simulator to see how it works in practice. They can change some parameters of this flight control algorithm and really feel how it behaves then.
Regarding the research purpose, we are developing a small UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) within the JXP project and we use the flight simulator for it. Before we made the hardware of the aircraft, we wrote a simulation model and we tried it in the simulator how the behavior is and from that we could make conclusions, we could improve the design.
The other research project is that we have a small quadrocopter (a helicopter with four rotors) and we can make simulations with it too in the flight simulator.
It also has a fun factor, because it is open for the public, they can fly with different kind of aircraft and so on, but it is not designed for real pilot training. In that case, the simulator should be certified and we couldn’t change any parameters of it. It should behave like a real aircraft, for example like an Airbus A380. This is the difference between a research or an engineering simulator what we have and a training simulator.

G: I guess, it’s a smart idea to open it for the public, because they could learn what is behind the fences and they won’t think, that it is a closed area and secret activities are going on inside.
BM: Yes, and we have the ‘Long night of research’ in Austria and hundreds of people wanted to see the simulator and you could not handle them, because you can handle not more then 20 at once. They idea came after such an event to make it open to people the whole year. But of course they have to pay, because it has actuation costs.

G: I read it in on the net, that the governor of the state has visited the university recently and tried out this simulator, using a special program which was about the Red Bull Air Race.
BM: Yes it’s true. It was at our ‘Luftfahrt 11’ show event in May. The idea of the event was to bring aviation closer to the public. There were a lot of program elements like helicopter flying and exhibitions and one point was also the Air Race in the simulator. The idea was based on the Red Bull Air Race originally; we made a certain scenario with balloons, where you had to fly through. It was a nice program, because 20 pilots applied to this air race and there was a certain course which had to be flown in the best time. Only the five best of the 20 pilots could go to the final round.

The back of the simulator with the computers and Mr. Jauk as he explains it

G: Was this special simulator program just to entertain the guests or had a useful side too to examine something?
BM: It was just entertaining, but it could have some useful meaning, for example when we calculate optimal flight trajectories to the UAV.

G: I guess it must be one the favorite place of the students. J
BM: Yes, I think so and also for the visitors.
G: For me, it was a thrilling experience. It is a very spectacular way to show something from aviation to someone who is not an expert on this field.
BM: Yes, but not only the simulation is important, but also to check things in practice. Because in simulation it’s easy, you have no measurement noise, no gas and so on, but when you check it in real life it’s always different like in the pure simulation

“I’ve always wanted to have a breathing institution here” – Mr. Wiesler introducing the master degree program

Returning to the chronological order, the next stop of my visit was in Mr. Bruno Wiesler’s office who is the head of the aviation department. He was an external lecturer here from the beginning and moved to the university in 2004. He became the head of the degree program two years later. As he told me, he has changed a lot of things since then, especially the development of the laboratories. To do this properly, he visited other universities to see their equipment and as the Austrian and German industries as well - which are the major research partners of the aviation department - and he adjusted it to these requirements. As I’ve just seen the test lab, we started our talk with this topic.

Female students are also very welcomed at the aviation department

Gabriella: Is it usual at other universities to provide this kind of rich equipment to the students?
Bruno Wiesler: I guess, that technical universities need this kind of equipment, but in comparison with others, we are very well equipped and we have the advantage, that we just have started the degree program and everything is fresh and new, the equipment too.

G: Could you tell me some details about the degree program?
BW: This is the first time we have the master now and it is consecutive to the bachelor. In the master, you can continue with the engineering branch, but you can also choose an aviation management branch. The specialty of aviation management brunch is outstanding. We have supply chain management and other very specific topics like certification, aircraft assembly which I think is unique at least in Europe.

G: How many students are studying at the aviation department?
BW: We start about 45 each year with the bachelor program and 60 or 70% make it to the finish. With the master program, we started at 30 and I hope, that most of them will pass. But it is their own responsibility. Otherwise it’s good to see their progress during the years.

G: Do you have any feedback about the graduated students?
BW: We have a community, and we know most of them; how they proceed. We also made some interviews with them which we introduced in our 10 years movie.

G: Do all of them find an employer?
BW: Yes. At the moment it’s not a problem at all, because we cover the whole aviation industry and also the transportation. They really go for very different jobs. For example one goes to IATA to Montreal, one goes to CFT to Hamburg, one goes for design to Diamond Aircraft ltd. What is common to them, I think they will have more responsibility as the years go by, but they have the overall knowledge which is very important if they want to go for a leading position. So they are not specialized in one of the topics, and if a particular topic is not required anymore, they won’t have problems, they have the overview. I also want to point out, that lot of people just see the piloting specialization what we do, but it’s applicable just 5 or 10% of the people starting here as a student, but most of them goes for technician in the Bachelor. And also the pilots have to go for a general program of 4 semesters which is very much engineering related and it’s very tough in mathematics and physics and other natural scientific subjects.  And we need to develop all the people for aerodynamics, flight control, mechanics, lightweight design. These really need a big effort to go for them the basic secondary level knowledge to this advanced simulation and engineering course.

On the left: a Honywell LTS 101-650B-1 turposhaft helicpter engine (650 hp), in the middle: BO-105 helicopter's tandem hydraulc unit

G: Talking about the piloting specialisation, I know there are special levels in piloting certifications like PPL (Private Pilot License), CPL (Commercial Pilot License). What kind of certificates can give the university?
BW: We start in the first two semesters with piloting topics and we covered the half of what is required to the theoretical PPL and we have the same amount of hours so it can be used to the PPL license. Then the students go for four semesters as all other students as all the technicians. And in the fourth semester, we have the piloting branch and they can go to the ATPL (Air Transport Pilot License). So they finish as a Bachelor and an ATPL pilot.

G: I read that there is an MCC (multi crew cooperation) simulator and as far as I know, it belongs to the ATPL license.
BW: We use it to our students’ education, but also for flight course from outside which come to MCC training. This is the last step before you go to a D level. So it’s a high level simulator, which we have since half year.

G: Does it mean that the university cannot give a flight license on his own?
BW: Yes, we are cooperating with flight schools and we can give the certificates like this in our bachelor degree program.

G: Can it happen, that somebody who finished the piloting course here, become a military pilot later at the air force?
BW: One of our students is momently in the selection process at the Austrian Air Force and if he passes it, it is also possible in his fourth semester he can go to the special flight course of the air force.

G: Is there any other connection point or rather cooperation with the air force?
BW: I guess, we have a good relationship with the Austrian Air Force. We organize a big event in each 2 years in the center of Graz, right at our campus with a strong support of the Austrian Air Force. We can host there just helicopters, last time older types too, which are available at the Austrian Air Force.

G: Are they involved in any research project at the university?
BW: The army can equip their aircrafts in their particular way, in adaption to Austrian standards. But we developed a certain life vest, special equipment to biological gas attacks, selection of their aircrafts was a theme of a diploma thesis.

G: I saw in one of the brochures a Hungarian partner university. Is there any closer cooperation with them?
BW: Yes, with professor Rohács. In the very early days, we had lecturers from the university, teaching our students here. But we are going to set it up in a new way. Last semester we had a Hungarian student, making his diploma thesis here and we were very happy with his basic education, he was a very clever guy.

G: How many foreign students are there in the aviation department?
BW: In each semester we have 2 to 5. Beside Hungary, they are coming from the Netherlands and we had some from Wroclav university, Poland and it seems that we will have one from France.

G: They must have a good German knowledge then.
BW: No, it’s not required. In the master it is completely in English, because we want to exchange students with foreign universities. I’ve always wanted to have a breathing institution here with close relationship with the industry and also with the university organizations. At the beginning, in the Bachelor program, we had the problem, that they foreign students not follow our German lecturers and this is why we set up a number of projects and they could do a project work without a German knowledge. And these are very interesting projects, the JXP site for example or on the flight simulator or CFD. We have a number of research projects in which they can be integrated.

In the next part of the report, you can learn everything about the unmanned aerial vehicle (the JXP) project.

Some more pictures about the simulator and the test lab:

Me in the the captain's seat, Mr. Jauk was my instructor

The nose of the simulator with the screen

Screen of a computer in the back of the simulator

The JXP model on a fuselage piece