Engineering students work with Bell Helicopter to make safer cockpit

Engineering students are getting real life career experience in their senior project for Bell Helicopter Textron Inc, Tristan Tayag, professor of the engineering department, said.

Bell propositioned half of the senior engineering class to create a heads-up display for a helicopter cockpit.

Lauren Lueders, senior design project manager, said. The display would provide visual cues to helicopter pilots that notify the pilot of potential hazards during flight such as unseen buildings, fog and trees. The students were to create a 180 degree field of view and the best vertical view as possible, a feat never accomplished before.

Participants worked with a weight limit of 25 pounds of equipment for installation along with a budget for installation of $15,000.

Bell gave Lueders’ team $19,000 in order to purchase parts needed for their project. Lueders said the team experienced setbacks when it came to finding equipment that fit into their budget.

“That is why [the heads-up display] hasn’t been done yet: because no one’s been able to implement this type of design for such a cheap installation cost,” she said.

The students began the project on Aug. 22. The 20-person team assigned the Bell Helicopter project is made up of electrical engineering majors and mechanical engineering majors, Lueders said.

Before beginning the project, the team researched and found developed technologies they could incorporate into their designs. Next, Lueders assigned members of the team to a certain type of technology used in the project.

J.B. Litterer, a senior mechanical engineering major, said his research focused on finding objects to tint the helicopter’s windshield. The tints used would allow the pilot to see the display screen as well as their physical surroundings with little trouble.

“So far we’ve come up with projectors as being the best way to solve our problem.” Lueders said.

The team has decided to project these images onto a transparent surface that will allow the pilot to see what’s in his immediate vicinity but still be aware of the potential dangers as well, Lueders said.

From their research, the team was able to design four different models of their projector. They presented their ideas to Bell Helicopter on Nov. 17. Lueders said the representatives expressed interest in their designs but did not favor one over another.

Given the total budget of $69,000, Lueders said the students searched extensively for more cost-efficient ways to integrate all four of their designs into one.

Tayag, faculty advisor of the helicopter project, said the senior design project helps the students learn, design, build and test something that is of importance and relevance to a company. It also helps build the students’ self-confidence, and taught them managing skills.

Lueders’ experience was not the first time that a senior design project had run into complications.
A project proposed by the engineering senior class of 2011 did not work during its final presentation, Tayag said.

“The greatest part of where they learn is when they make mistakes,” Tayag said.

It is better to learn from their mistakes here than in the professional world, he said.

The class of 2011, initially disappointed with their presentation, found encouragement from a TCU alumna who worked for the company to whom they presented, Tayag said. The project, which involved the development and testing of an engine, was re-assigned to another team as a senior design project.

The senior design project has been active since 1996, Tayag said. This year marks Bell Helicopter’s third proposition to TCU’s senior engineering class.

The Bell Helicopter project is officially due on April 26, 2012.