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Students Face Airport Design Task

By Jackson Jung
Associate News Editor

The city government has asked your firm to make a design bid for the new airport. You need to optimize the number, size, and placement of runways and gates based on expected traffic patterns. Of course, you also need to minimize the cost. And you need to be done in one and a half hours.

This is the scenario that nine teams made up of freshmen and sophomores tackled last Wednesday, at MIT's preliminary Tau Beta Pi design contest. Tau Beta Pi is a national engineering honor society.

The teams were given one and a half hours to digest the bits of information they were given about a fictitious city, come up with an airport design, and put together a succinct presentation.

Each team was judged on its ability to justify its design, as well as present it clearly and concisely. Not surprisingly, the winning team was the only group of four students majoring in aeronautical and astronautical engineering: Daniel D. Hurda '95, Keith S. Jackson '95, Burton M. Knapp '95, and Yannick S. Trottier '95.

The problem was challenging not only because many intricate details had to be considered, but also because some of the given details may have been erroneous.

"It was an aeronautical problem thought up by electrical engineers," joked Hurda. "The [given] length of a runway for a 747 was about a third of what it needed to be." Hurda noticed that nearly all of the aeronautical parameters were erroneously scaled by approximately one third.

Nevertheless, the team succeeded and moved on to the district Tau Beta Pi design contest on Saturday at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. They competed against nine other teams from schools around the northeastern U.S.

Team over-analyzes problem

At the district competition the problem scenario was: The underground gasoline tanks at a station next to a water well may have sprung a leak. How can the leak be detected and contained?

According to John W. Lin '94, president-elect of the MIT chapter of Tau Beta Pi, the teams were given about four and a half hours to analyze and solve the problem, and come up with a set of briefing charts. The MIT team was randomly selected to present its design first.

"It was a lot of fun," Hurda said. "It was a lot like one of the systems problems we do in Unified Engineering [16.001-16.002]. At least that's the way we attacked it."

But apparently hampered by a natural tendency to over-analyze problems, the team did not fare as well at the district level. They proceeded with an extensive numerical analysis while other teams' analyses were more qualitative.

According to Lin, the winning team from the University of New Hampshire performed only a few simple calculations and was commended by the judges for concentrating on solutions to the problem.

Both Hurda and Lin said the MIT team had come up with solutions similar to the UN* team, but the MIT presentation ran long and was cut off. Each team was given ten minutes for the presentation.

Some of the other schools represented at the district contest were Yale University, Boston University, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Massachusetts Lowell, and the University of Maine. Only one winning prize was awarded; it included $400 and a plaque.