Sikorsky + RISD: Design in Flight
Students in Industrial Design and Interior Architecture got a close look at an intriguing industry in a Helicopter Studio offered in conjunction with Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation. Working alongside professional designers, engineers and corporate executives, students balanced the conceptual aspects of helicopter design with the realities of aircraft engineering, which involves issues such as ergonomics, weight, crash-worthiness and the Federal Aviation Administration Airworthiness Standards for helicopter design.
The first segment of the investigation involved unmanned aerial vehicles – in essence, flying robots – as part of a rapid delivery system for high-priority packages. Funded by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, this project focused on the future of package transportation and delivery by looking at the Vertical Take Off and Landing/Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTOL/UAV). One student team looked to the dynamics of swarming insect colonies – with their unique system of non-linear division of labor – for their solution and proposed a craft that is as small as possible while still being able to carry cargo.
In the second half of the semester, students worked individually on designs for either the interior of Sikorsky’s latest helicopter, the S-92, or the exterior of a proposed heavy-lift cargo helicopter. After an initial phase of research and sharing findings among the group, each individual developed multiple concepts, and with early feedback from Sikorsky personnel and other students, zeroed in on a specific idea for further resolution. Students considered the varied applications of the helicopters, from VIP and executive transport to search-and-rescue and emergency medical response. One designer proposed modular units suitable for the changing equipment needs of EMS teams; other solutions looked at revamping the VIP interior with an emphasis on communication devices and reconfigurable seating. “Having fresh eyes look at problems that we have been looking at for years” proved to be a great boon for Sikorsky, says Ben Lehberger, the company’s liaison for the project.