On May 14, four recent electrical and computer engineering (ECE) graduates unveiled their fully functional space shuttle flight simulator at the annual Aviator Ball held at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium (TASM). In addition to the alumni and their professors, the ribbon-cutting ceremony was attended by Oklahoma astronaut Commander John Herrington, Shuttle Commander Jim Wetherbee, Shuttle Pilot Paul Lockhart and Flight Director Milt Heflin (originally from Fairfax, Oklahoma). All eyes were on Wetherbee and Lockhart as they tried out the new simulator and landed the shuttle.
In order to get to this momentous day, the recent ECE graduates — Benjamin Bozworth (BS ’22), Carter Guretzki (BS ’22), Brett Reckinger (BS ’22) and Jude Urban (BS ’22) — spent a good deal of their final senior-year semester converting what was a static shell of a space shuttle cockpit into a vibrant, attractive and fully interactive simulator that can accommodate two pilots working independently of each other.
A fully functional flight simulator
This project came about when TASM received a wooden mockup of the space shuttle cockpit. Lacking electronics, the structure consisted merely of an interior and exterior shell as well as a framework in which a console could be inserted. “Through their ingenuity and diligence, our remarkable students transformed what was essentially a gutted interior into a fully functional flight simulator,” said ECE Department Chair Kaveh Ashenayi. “Despite the tight budget and even tighter schedule, they succeeded on every front.”
Supervised by Ashenayi as well as Applied Associate Professor Douglas Jussaume and Assistant Professor Loyd Hook, the students added simulation software and control systems, designed and built seats and stairs (with the help of TASM volunteers) and a haptic response system, including amplifiers . They also added a custom-built LED controller and an LED system for additional visual effects. Finally, they designed and modified the display systems and a cooling system for the computer that runs the simulator.
Bozworth was the ECE team’s lead. His main responsibilities were overall system design, ensuring the project stayed on scheduled and on budget, procuring all the required components and communicating with TASM. For Bozworth, the most rewarding part of the project was creating something that will be “an exciting, educational and enjoyable experience” for the museum’s visitors. The most challenging parts were adhering to the tight timeline and budget. That said, however, for Bozworth, the experience provided advanced lessons in project management: “Communicating with several different customers can be difficult, but it was a great skill to hone this semester.”
Urban served as the project’s software engineer. He wrote all the code for the simulation as the interface between the software and hardware, such as the controls, haptics and LED lighting. For Urban, the most challenging aspect was time; however, he noted, “this pressure was welcome because it pushed our team to work hard early in order to guarantee an on-time delivery.” He also noted that the opportunity to immerse himself in the engineering process – communicating, creating requirements, planning, building, testing and refining – was a great learning opportunity and added to the enjoyment of his senior year.
Rounding out the ECE team, Guretzki served as the manufacturing engineer, taking charge of the majority of the engineering drawings and meeting with the installation volunteers to ensure they understood the designs and requirements. Reckinger was the testing and documentation engineer, responsible for designing the test plan and conducting all tests to ensure the customer requirements were met. He was also in charge of the major documentation, such as the owner’s manual, troubleshooting guide and maintenance plan.
A driving force behind the space shuttle simulator project was Daniel Marticello, the president and chief executive officer of CymSTAR, a Tulsa-based training and simulation firm. Marticello is a TASM board member and sits on the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering’s industrial advisory board.
“One of our goals is to ensure our seniors have the opportunity to engage in real projects for real customers so that they are prepared to start working right after graduation,” explained Ashenayi. “Mr. Marticello and CymSTAR knew of this objective and, when the opportunity arose, asked ECE for students who could help.”
“The TU students brought tremendous value and were instrumental both to this project and the greater goal of increasing the number and quality of interactive, engaging exhibits at TASM that engage young people and encourage them to learn more about aerospace and STEM,” said Marticello. “The space shuttle simulator would have been prohibitively expensive to the museum had the students not volunteered their time and expertise to make it a success.”
Tonya Blansett, TASM’s executive director, explained that museum exhibits are usually one-of-a-kind prototypes that require hours of design and fabrication. They are costly and usually out of reach of most small organizations. According to Blansett, the partnership between TASM, TU, the museum’s volunteers, CymSTAR and the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority both overcame these obstacles and is “an ideal model of how a community should come together to create opportunities for its younger members.”
Blansett underscored the “valuable insights” and “mutual learning” that arose from bringing together college students “raised with a cell phone in their hands and video game interface as second nature” with deeply experienced retired aviation engineers, mechanics and electricians from the museum’s volunteer team. Considering the finished product, she is confident it will provide an “impactful, inspirational hands-on experience that will launch the imagination of every user.”
Designing and fabricating at the cutting edge of electrical and computer engineering technology – at TU, we’re eager for you to join the adventure!