Greene County News
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — The Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Air Force Institute of Technology offers both master’s and doctoral programs in the fields of aeronautical engineering, astronautical engineering, material sciences, and space systems, as well as certificates in the graduate space systems program.
Students in the program at AFIT have the opportunity to design, build, test and fly satellites as part of their coursework. In addition, students can study hypersonic vehicles that fly faster than 2,500 mph for sustained periods of time.
“If a student is in an astro or space systems program, they can take a course sequence which designs and builds small satellites. Once tested, the satellite can be integrated into a known flight that the Air Force, NASA or someone else will launch. We have tracking stations to talk to our satellites in space. Very few universities can design, build, launch and communicate with satellites,” said Dr. Bradley Liebst, department head.
AFIT’s lineage goes back to 1919 and aeronautics and astronautics is the only department that has been there since the very beginning. The school was established when the Army’s Air School of Application Air Services Engineering School changed their name to AFIT shortly after WWII.
“With Sputnik and the moon shot, space got more interesting. In 1964, we gave the very first astronautical engineering degree in the country,” said Liebst. “The difference between aeronautics and astronautics depends on whether you operate in air or not. Vehicles that are in the air or have engines that breathe air are aeronautical. Astronautical objects and spacecraft operate in a vacuum. They may be like airplanes, but once they are in space it is a different environment with high radiation, temperature extremes, and no air. That’s really what astro is.”
The aeronautics and astronautics programs are fully-accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Full-time master’s students enter as a class in September and graduate in 18 months. Doctoral students graduate after three years.
“It had been about seven years since I was in school so after a few months of feeling like I was drowning, I came back to the surface and remembered how to do math and physics again,” said Maj. Ryan Carr, AFIT doctoral student in the aeronautical engineering program. “Master’s students’ time is very compressed. They have about a year of classes and half a year to do their own research. A doctoral student has three years to devote to their own research and delve deeper into the topic. Once coursework is completed, a qualifying exam is administered and a research plan is developed. A prospectus — kind of like a contract — is made with the research committee so when the work is done, it is defended and, if defended well, the student graduates with a doctorate.”
“I’m doing control theory which looks at how an airplane can go from one place to another, expend the least amount of fuel possible, and determine what maneuvers are used to do that,” said Carr. “My application area is missile evasion — avoiding incoming missile threats and use optimal control while still heading in the right direction. The Air Force Research Laboratory is my sponsor.”
The department’s programs are designed for students from all branches of the U.S. military services as well as students from allied foreign military services, some civilians and part-time students with follow-ons to AFRL, the National Reconnaissance Office and other places.
In terms of research, there are three major disciplines within the department: fluids and propulsion, materials and structures, and dynamics and control.
The Graduate Materials Science program is under the joint supervision of the department’s structural materials and the Department of Engineering Physics (non-structural materials) and is carried out in cooperation with the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate of AFRL. The program provides students with the knowledge necessary for work in the fields of aerospace structures and electro-optical material design.
The Graduate Space Systems program is designed to provide officers with a broad knowledge of space systems engineering and space science. Education in the fundamentals of these areas will increase effectiveness in planning, executing and evaluating space systems and operations.
“You don’t have to have an undergraduate degree in engineering to get into the space systems program,” Liebst added. “All you have to have is calculus through differential equations and physics. It is specifically for folks in the Air Force who would want a technical master’s in space systems but might not have an undergraduate degree in engineering.”
The Graduate Space Systems Certificate Program is designed for students with traditional engineering backgrounds (mechanical, electrical, aerospace, etc.) and produces graduates who can effectively approach and analyze complex space-related problems, design feasible solutions, and select an appropriate solution.
There are approximately 22-23 faculty members in the department and the department graduates about 10 Ph.D. and 60 master’s students every year. For more information, visit http://www.afit.edu/.