During spring break a group of 16 aerospace engineers took a grand tour of Southern California (SoCal), visiting 8 of the top aerospace research and production facilities. Known as the “Aerospace Dream Tour,” this event was organized by Michigan’s AIAA chapter, which leveraged its network to arrange tours at JPL, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, SpaceX, Lockheed-Martin “Skunk Works,” Scaled Composites, Pratt & Whitney Rockedyne, and Edwards Air Force Base. Details of this trip were documented on a blog the AIAA president Steve Harris kept throughout the trip. A day-by-day breakdown summarizing our trip is given below:
Monday: On Monday we toured NASA’s Jet Population Laboratory (JPL) and Boeing’s C-17 production facility. JPL is responsible for almost all of the deep space probes NASA sends to the other planets. Among other things, we saw where the new Mars rover known as Curiosity (the Mars Science Laboratory, currently on its way to Mars) was made. We noticed an engineer in a clean suit was using the iHandy app on his iPhone to find the inclination of the MSL engineering model. Later that day we saw C-17 Globemasters in various stages of their construction. It was humbling standing next such a large aircraft in its infancy. Some of the construction techniques were very unique, and we learned some surprising facts on the type of damage this military aircraft can take and still stay in the air.
Tuesday: On Tuesday we toured Northrop Grumman and SpaceX. At Northrope we toured the composites facility and walked down the F-18 Super Hornet production line. Looking at fighter jets never gets old for an aerospace engineer, and seeing their half build structure and
internal guts gave us all goose bumps. We then toured SpaceX, which pretty much blew the socks off the space geeks in the group (myself included). Everywhere you looked there was space hardware, including a new rocket engine the tour guide told us we should probably not be looking at. We stuck our head into that Dragon capsule mock up, watched their mission control room in action during a test run for the upcoming launch, and ate some of the free frozen yogurt the employees enjoy every day at the expense of a bet lost to Elon Musk. Did I mention the Iron Man movie was filmed here?
Wednesday: The mind-blowing tours continued on Wednesday when we took a very exclusive tour of Lockheed’s Advanced Development Programs facility, commonly known as the Skunk
Works. This is where a lot of the top secret aircraft are developed and built. Most of us never thought we would have a chance to step foot in this facility without working for them. There we had a chance to get down and dirty with the P-791, an experimental aerostatic/aerodynamic hybrid airship. The day kept getting better with a trip to the Mohave Spaceport and a tour of Scaled Composites. One of the most interesting aircraft they developed and built is the Space Ship One spaceplane, a suborbital vehicle which won them the X Prize. There TBP members (Dan Becker and myself) piloted the suborbital flight simulator, launching the spaceplane to the edge of space.
Thursday: On Thursday AIAA members took a tour of two of Rocketdyne’s production facilities. Rocketdyne is responsible for building the F-1 rocket engine; the enormous monster that combined with four other engines put a man on the moon. They also built the Space Shuttle Main Engines, among others. If you want to see their handy work head over to the FXB.
Friday: Our grant tour concluded on Friday with a bang, literally. We were sitting in a conference room on the secure military base eating lunch and a loud noise, which sounded like someone dropping something on the roof, shook the room. It was a sonic boom! We had a
chance to shake the wing of a Global Hawk (a surveillance UAV) to view the vibrational modes, and saw plenty of jets in the air, including tow F-22 raptors. We saw the F-35 (the new Joint Strike Fighter) with our own eyes, and got up close to an F-16 and it various tools of destruction.
There is no question that this trip is basically the best possible way an aerospace engineer can spend a week short of flying in a fighter jet or traveling into space. However, not everything was official business. There were a lot of conventional fun activities we did as well. For instance, on
Thursday, after our tour of Rocketdyne, we piled into our inconspicuous 12 passenger white van headed to Santa Monica for some beach time. There we took a short walk to Venice Beach to do some people watching, check out the set of American Ninja Warrior, and get some tattoos. Needless to say, it’s a pretty crazy place! Once the Sun set we drove to Hollywood Blvd for dinner and some live
music at the Hard Rock Café. We also spent some time hanging out with employees from SpaceX and Scaled Composites and made use of the hotel hot tub. All in all, a perfect spring break trip. We are all extremely grateful to everyone that made this trip possible.
If you are interested in joining Michigan’s AIAA chapter (and you should because AIAA regularly does awesome field trips and flies planes around AA at almost no cost to their members) please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and ask how you can be a member. All majors welcome!
Written by: Nathan Mckay