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SEMA Members and Air Force Academy Can Collaborate

  USAFA Cadets and Kersting
  Back row (left to right): Director of the USAFA Applied Mechanics Lab Lt. Col. Richard Buckley, SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting, LandSpeed Productions founder Louise Ann Noeth, Applied Mechanics Lab Deputy Captain Robert Bailey, World Land Speed Record Holder Patrick Rummerfield. Front row: United States Air Force Academy cadets from the junior and senior class chosen to attend the 2010 SEMA Show based on their scholastic excellence in mechanical and aerodynamic engineering.

Most SEMA members know the Air Force has a sprawling campus in the mountains of Colorado Springs just south of Denver, but very few are aware how the Academy’s top technology learning labs can help research, develop, test and evaluate product ideas while helping the cadet student body move towards graduation and beyond. The USAFA has an interest in developing relationships with performance parts manufacturers and land speed racing teams that can yield real-world, practical experience for cadet educational projects where once only theoretical, or computer modeling data, was possible.

In the past, cadets and faculty have collaborated with outside organizations on a wide range of products—from characterizing the performance of new internal combustion engine technologies for use in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, to developing rehabilitation tools for individuals with severe head trauma and hand injuries.

What They Do
The Mission of the US Air Force Academy is to educate, train and inspire men and women to become officers of character, motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation. Because the Air Force is a highly technical service, there is an emphasis in the core curriculum on science, engineering and technology. The Mechanical and Aeronautical engineering programs at USAFA are consistently ranked in the top five of undergraduate programs nationally. All engineering cadets are required to complete Capstone design and instrumentation projects to show their proficiency in their field of study.

Capstone projects run the gamut from Micro-air vehicles for reconnaissance to battlefield transportation challenges, to the familiar Formula SAE and Mini-Baja competition teams. In the Applied Mechanics Lab, automotive-related projects abound because they are excellent for learning design, analysis and control of complex systems. Cadets in their junior and senior year take classes in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Finite Element Analysis (FEA). The department has a dedicated “research garage” space equipped with a SuperFlow chassis dyno and water brake engine dyno.

USAFA Cadets at Show
Lt. Col. Richard Buckley and Capt. Robert Bailey (left), who direct the Applied Mechanics Engineering lab at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, together with author and photojournalist “LandSpeed” Louise Ann Noeth, enjoy high-speed tales of setting the world record for motorcycles by the fastest man on two wheels, Rocky Robinson (in sunglasses) as they lean on his 376 mph speed machine during the 2010 SEMA Show.

Current projects include engine management systems for Honda and Suzuki motorcycle engines and an EFI retrofit and research instrumentation of a small-block Chevy engine. Future planned projects include instrumented research engines and a 1,000hp engine for demonstrations and cadet independent research. The Aeronautical Engineering lab is equipped with several wind tunnels, ranging from low-speed sub-sonic, transonic and supersonic up to Mach 4; jet engine test stands capable of measuring up to 7,000 lbs. of thrust; and several engine dynos capable of up to 1,000 lb.-ft. and 1,000 hp. All of these facilities are dedicated to cadet and faculty research projects and cadets are encouraged to pursue independent studies related to real-world challenges and outside normal classroom instruction.

How SEMA Members Can Help
Because USAFA is a federal agency, cadet design and research teams are not allowed to solicit sponsors from commercial businesses. This puts our future service members at a significant disadvantage compared to other universities. It also makes it more difficult for cadets to be involved with state-of-the-art product development and research. There is not a prohibition from working with the industry, just a prohibition from soliciting. A number of collaborations and cooperative research and development initiatives have been established with businesses that have pursued a relationship with USAFA. SEMA members who are interested in collaborating with the USAFA research labs can contact the Applied Mechanics Lab Director Lt. Col. Richard Buckley at 719/333-6633 or at

—"LandSpeed" Louise Ann Noeth