Do you have coffee filters, masking tape, and some bendy straws handy? Grab those and a few more supplies from your kitchen and you’re ready to start thinking like an engineer.
We explore the real-world engineering process in the AAR Design Hangar at the Museum in Washington, DC, in our gallery How Things Fly. The AAR Design Hangar, originally launched with support from AAR Corp, provides hands-on engineering challenges. Now, the creative space is getting a second infusion of support by AAR Corp., its chairman and CEO David P. Storch, and the family of its founder Ira J. Eichner. Their generous $1 million donation will allow the Museum to continue hosting design challenges when How Things Fly closes for renovation and will support the next vision for the Hangar when the gallery re-opens.
The challenges put participants in the engineering mindset and adhere to the engineering design process—ask, imagine, plan, create, and improve. Whether designing an aircraft that can fly stable in a vertical airstream or be launched at high speed, each participant works to improve their original design often iterating on it multiple times like a real engineer.
“It’s children acting like engineers, trying to solve a problem,” said Michael Hulslander, Museum educator and manager of How Things Fly and the Design Hangar. “The process of problem solving is what this entire Museum is about.”
There are right and wrong answer for each challenge, but how each participant gets there is entirely up to them. At the end of a challenge, regardless of result, participants have a better understanding of what an engineer does.
“They may go in knowing engineers build things, but they come out knowing more; engineers not only build things, they build things to solve problems,” Hulslander said.
Design challenges were created with parents and teachers in mind. The challenges can be recreated easily with common household items—no 3D printer, table saws, or pricy equipment required.
"We use simple materials on purpose. We want adults to be able to replicate this experience at home or in the classroom with little to no problem or cost,” Hulslander said.
You can test your own engineering skills at home or in the classroom with our first Design Hangar challenge plan to go online (below)—more coming soon.