Corvus: Urban Air Mobility Solutions for Package Delivery; Lessons from the Boeing 737 Max 8

Normansell, David, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
McDaniel, James, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Seabrook, Bryn, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

The capstone project in this thesis is the report of the 2019-2020 UVA submission to the 2020 NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) university design challenge. Every year, NASA ARMD sponsors a national design challenge for US universities to compete to solve some aerospace problem. This year, the challenge was to “design a safe, reliable autonomous system to deliver small packages to extremely short take-off and landing platforms within an urban environment”(NASA, 2019). The project was completed by a class of 13 aerospace engineering students in Professor James McDaniel’s Aircraft Design class over the course of an academic year. To complete this project, engineering students divided into groups specializing in aerodynamics, performance, and propulsion, and researched state of the art technologies in each category. The class designed an autonomous drone featuring a dual-tilt-wing architecture capable of taking off vertically before transitioning to more traditional cruise flight. Accompanying the drone was a design for a distribution center with autonomous architecture to load and recharge the drones to achieve the challenge-specified throughput. Due to the high price of individual drones and distribution center architecture, a business plan was also created that could be used to pitch the drones to companies such as Amazon and UPS.
The STS component of this thesis studies the recent Boeing 737 Max 8 crashes and assesses root causes and mitigations. The research question is: what went wrong that led to the Boeing 737 Max 8 crashes and groundings, and how do the disasters inform the role of the engineer in ensuring public safety? This STS research analyzes these questions, and the role of the engineer in the disasters, and in public safety in general, through the framework of Co-Production. Co-production is used in an attempt to overcome the simplifications of technical determinism and social constructivism, focusing on how society and technology develop simultaneously and interact through mutual development. In both the planes that crashed, the immediate cause was a faulty sensor triggering the MCAS system, which forced the nose of the plane downward against the will of the pilots. While the physical cause of the accidents was the faulty sensor, this research concluded that the more fundamental issue was that Boeing had not informed the pilots that the MCAS system existed, and that the FAA was not fully enforcing the safety requirements of modern aviation due to the co-produced nature of the regulatory system. Further, the author argues that any engineering safety system can fall victim to the same issues that befell the Boeing 737 Max 8.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Boeing, Drone, Delivery, UAV, Co-Production

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering
Technical Advisor: James McDaniel
STS Advisor: Bryn Seabrook
Technical Team Members: Cristhian Vasquez, Brett Brunsink, Henry Smith III, Timothy Mather, Daniel Choi, Derrick Devairakkam, Gino Giansante, JD Parker, Joseff Medina, Justin Robinson, Philip Hays, Alejandro Britos

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