The Hummingbird: AIAA 2020-2021 Undergraduate Design Proposal; A Joint Utilitarian/Care Ethics Analysis of the Starfish Prime Nuclear Test

Allen, Justice, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Quinlan, Jesse, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Laugelli, Benjamin, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

My technical work and STS research both fall into the aerospace domain, even if on opposite ends of the spectrum. While the topics of military aircraft design and space nuclear tests overlap in their occurrence above the Earth’s surface, one just higher than the other, they are also united by their military connections and broad implications for public citizens. How engineers design military aircraft and nuclear space experiments affect the environment, daily life of citizens, and political associations between nations. These two topics also reap the benefits of the massive United States military budget, and therefore have even more reach with which to greatly impact the entire world.

For my technical report, my team and I have designed a new light attack aircraft for service by 2025. This aircraft design seeks to fulfill competition requirements as a light and cost-effective aircraft for close air support. It must be able to take off from and land on rough terrain and short runways. We have proposed a single engine propeller aircraft nicknamed “the Hummingbird” of around forty feet long with a weight of just under fifteen thousand pounds. The aircraft features a large T-tail design at the aft of the aircraft and sturdy landing gear in a tricycle orientation. This aircraft has been quantitatively sized and analyzed to fulfill mission requirements with appropriate lift, thrust, stability, and control.

Moving to a pure research venture, my STS Research Paper explores an ethical analysis of the Starfish Prime nuclear test, a massive explosion of a 1.4 megaton thermonuclear bomb in the upper atmosphere by the US military in 1962. I utilized a joint ethical framework consisting of Utilitarian and Care Ethics. For a purely Utilitarian analysis, I compiled a moral balance sheet that recorded and quantified the happiness or unhappiness created by each separate result of the explosion. I then totaled these values and found a net creation of unhappiness, designating Starfish Prime as not morally permissible by Utilitarian Ethics. Next, I focused on Care Ethics by analyzing the duty of care required in the two relationships present: US military leaders and US citizens, and US military leaders and foreign countries. Adhering to Joan Tronto’s literature, I determined that the US military leaders satisfied both duties of care required in these relationships, thus designating Starfish Prime as morally permissible by Care Ethics. Therefore, when analyzed under a combined Utilitarian/Care Ethics framework, the Starfish Prime must be labelled as morally ambiguous.

I found working on these two projects simultaneously to be incredibly beneficial. While it was easy to get bogged down in the technical specifics of how to improve our aircraft, I was unable to ignore the societal and ethical implications of this project due to my work with the STS topics. I believe this combination of technical and pure research work has made me think hard about what engineering projects I will be comfortable working on in the future, and has granted me some of the stable knowledge grounds on which to judge this work. Neither my light attack aircraft nor the Starfish Prime nuclear test is without ethics, and neither exists in a vacuum. My work as an engineer in the future also will not be without ethics, and I must think critically about the technology I help implement into society. The simultaneous technical project and STS Research Paper have taught me how connected technology is to the society in which it comes from, and that it inevitably alters.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
aircraft, airplane, utilitarianism, care ethics, utilitarian ethics, starfish prime, militarization of space, light attack aircraft, austere airfields, history of aviation, world war II, WWII, technological momentum, nuclear, space, aircraft design, AIAA, Un Duel Dans les Airs, vspaero, FLOPS, AAA

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering
Technical Advisor: Jesse Quinlan
STS Advisor: Benjamin Laugelli
Technical Team Members: Lori Abbed, Sander Abraham, Marcus Dozier, Eli Kidd, Landry Myers, D'Michael Thompson

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