William Ziegler and computer science students work on the FAA Design Competition projects at the Greater Binghamton Airport in 2010.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Airport projects take students, professor to new heights
January 23, 2012Tweet
William Ziegler still remembers making a phone call to the Greater Binghamton Airport after learning about the Federal Aviation Administration Design Competition. He called looking for someone “in charge” and eventually reached the voicemail of Commissioner of Aviation Carl Beardsley.
“I left him a long message,” said Ziegler ’76, an associate professor of computer science. “He called me back 20 minutes later and he had already called Chad Nixon of McFarland Johnson. Chad had signed on. … I knew no one. Now the three of us are good friends.”
The connection between the federal (FAA), state (Binghamton University), county (Broome’s airport) and private (McFarland Johnson, a Binghamton-based engineering firm) has helped Ziegler and his students win the FAA Design Competition for the past three years.
“It’s the perfect storm of partnerships,” said Ziegler, who discussed the partnerships and competition results at a Binghamton University Forum luncheon in Old Union Hall on Jan. 18.
The FAA competition invites students to solve airport issues in four categories ranging from operation and maintenance to runway safety. Ziegler and the computer science students (20-25 per project) have won four first-place awards, one second-place award and an honorable mention over the past three years. Students also have given presentations on their projects in cities such as Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Denver.
“These are undergraduates doing all of these good things,” Ziegler stressed to the Forum members.
The students’ success has proven financially beneficial: $14,000 in prize money has gone to them.
“Every student who has taken my class in the last three years has received money in the mail from the FAA,” Ziegler said. “That’s pretty cool.”
The success has also benefited the community, as the FAA is funding a $1.4 million grant to install one of the students’ winning projects: geothermal radiant heating of the airport pavement where planes load.
The project, which earned a first-place honor in 2009, prevents snow and ice from accumulating on the airport “apron” and cools the terminal building in the summer.
“You can’t use salt at airports,” Ziegler said. “Just as we know what it does to our cars, it’s even worse to suck salt into a jet engine. That makes snow and ice removal a big problem.”
Other winning projects are:
• Treating anti-icing and de-icing byproducts by using a high-vacuum evaporator (first place, 2009).
• Utilizing wind energy to provide runway lighting at remote airports (first place, 2010).
• Using panoramic photography and digital imaging to detect foreign objects on runways (honorable mention, 2010).
• Developing procedures to remediate hazardous fuel spills (first place, 2011).
• Creating a smartphone application to improve responses during airport emergencies (second place, 2011).
Ziegler’s students have competed against and defeated schools such as Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the University of Southern California and the University of California at Berkeley.
“You never know how it’s going to go,” Ziegler said. “It depends on the competition.”
Ziegler believes that one key to the students’ success is communication, as the senior seminar focuses on communication in engineering and science. A typical competition entry will have 25 authors, 87 pages, 26,000 words and 40 figures and drawings.
“We look at the problem, propose a solution and write about it,” he said. “The way you win is with communication.”
Working together also extends to the partnerships – and that’s another key to success, Ziegler said. The students have been able to tour and study at the Greater Binghamton Airport with Beardsley and at McFarland Johnson with Nixon, who is the company’s vice president.
“We need technical expertise,” Ziegler said. “McFarland Johnson provides office space and the engineering staff is available to our students and they help and work with us.”
Ziegler also credited University colleagues such as Vice President for Student Affairs Brian Rose, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Donald Loewen, Vice Provost for Strategic and Fiscal Planning Michael McGoff and Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Krishnaswami (Hari) Srihari for their constant support and reassurances.
“I’m just one spoke in the wheel – just one part of this,” Ziegler said.