Students Reestablish CUA Student Chapter of American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)

June 8, 2016


Bruce Cranford (AIAA Emeritus Associate Fellow, CUA Class of 1967) gives a tour of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum to CUA students. Danielle Caruccio (with pink sweater) is the president of the student organization.

Ever since Dr. Albert Zahm built a wind tunnel in 1901 here—the very first such facility among universities in the United States—The Catholic University of America has played important roles in country’s advancement in aviation and spaceflight.

Now, a group of students has launched a new student club based on their shared interests in airplanes and spaceships. They elected Danielle Caruccio and Robert Taylor, both Mechanical Engineering majors, as their leaders. The faculty adviser of the newly founded group is Dr. Masataka Okutsu, clinical assistant professor with a doctorate degree in aerospace engineering.

After getting the club officially recognized by the university, the group contacted American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)—the world’s largest professional organization for aerospace engineers. The CUA students are aiming to establish a student chapter of AIAA here.

One of the people who assisted this effort was Bruce Cranford, Emeritus Associate Fellow of AIAA and an alumnus of CUA. Cranford received his Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Department of Space Science and Applied Physics in 1967.

Back then, a significant amount of research and development efforts in the United States were directed to the space program. Even before Neil Armstrong has set his foot on the Moon, NASA was already working on a plan to upgrade their Saturn V moon rocket with a nuclear rocket engine, so that the vehicle would be made powerful enough to send astronauts to Mars.

While being a student at CUA, Cranford’s class work would include such an assignment as simulation of fuel flow inside nuclear rocket engine. “My senior design project was ‘space rescue system’,” he added.

At that time, CUA had an active student chapter of AIAA, Cranford said.

Now, a new generation of students are reestablishing CUA’s tie to AIAA. On April 22-23, 2016, two CUA groups made their presentations during the AIAA Region I Student Paper Competition, held in Worcester, MA.

But the activities of the new club are not just serious technical work. A visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum was one of the examples of fun things they did. When the students contacted Cranford to join the event, he offered to give them a tour of the museum.

Cranford told them about all kinds of flying machines, from the Space Shuttle Discovery to the spy plane Blackbird (shown behind students in photo). By listening to Cranford, students developed appreciations for the historical breakthroughs made by their predecessors.

“It was amazing to see the progression of aircraft throughout the years,” said Caruccio. “I hope we can make this tour an annual event.”