Taking flight

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Since the start of the second semester of this year, the students of the Instituto Mauá de Tecnologia, São Caetano do Sul (SP), have been working on a unique challenge: design a human-powered aircraft. The task is not easy. "Imagine building a wing with a 20-30 meter span from end to end weighing no more than 30 kg," says professor Joseph Saab Jr., creator of the HPA (Human-Powered Aircraft) project.

Curiously, the educational institution does not offer courses in the field of aeronautics: students involved in the initiative are studying mechanical engineering. So, why offer a project like this one to students of a field that is theoretically unrelated to aviation? According to Saab, the initial aim is to increase engagement in the classroom, especially because PBL (Project Based Learning), which is the case of the HPA, steers away from the strictly theoretical approach. The students of this model, applied for 17 years in other courses at the university, tend to standout as leaders in the labour market since the work they produce develops their sense of responsibility, cooperation, and leadership.

There are other factors. "It adds significant value to the Brazilian aviation industry. These subjects must be brought into the university," says the professor. Saab adds that this type of project helps students develop new skills by including topics they would normally not address in a mechanical engineering course and enables the education of highly qualified professionals to compete in the market.

The programme is expected to last 1.5 to 2 years and the first few months of activities have been promising, especially with the institutional support provided by CISB, paving the way for new opportunities. One of these opportunities was the visit of professor Petter Krus, of Linköping Univeristy, to the IMT. "We spent an afternoon together, exchanging experiences as professors," says Saab. Moreover, the Swedish institution offered human-powered aircraft development projects in the past, but they were discontinued. During the conversation, however, the professors talked about the possibility of Swedish students assisting in research conducted at the Brazilian university, in a similar partnership to the one established with other universities.

Another result of the entry of CISB was the reestablishment of relations with a company of the same name as the IMT professor: the Swedish Saab AB. In fact, a meeting between company representatives and the university was held on November 10 as the first step toward a possible partnership to make HPA take flight far beyond the academic environment.