Fairfax Police land helicopter on campus to explain the rotorcraft’s mechanics to engineering students

Mechanical engineering students get a close-up look at the Bell helicopter
Mechanical engineering students get a close-up look at the Bell 429 helicopter.

Students studying aeronautics in the Department of Mechanical Engineering got an up-close look at how a helicopter works when the Fairfax Police landed one on campus recently and explained its functionality. 

Mason Engineering’s second-semester senior aeronautics class (ME 499) focuses on rotary-wing flight vehicle performance, stability/control, and unmanned aircraft systems. 

To bring some of the ideas of the class to life, adjunct professor Robert Gallo asked Captain Michael Shamblin, Helicopter Division Commander of the Fairfax County Police Department, to provide a practical demonstration of vertical lift with their Bell 429 helicopter.   

The helicopter landed on the lawn outside Merten Hall one afternoon in late February, and the police flight crew demonstrated how the cyclic and collective flight systems affect motion and control of the rotor blades. 

Among those attending the class with the aeronautics students were: Mason president Gregory Washington, Provost and Executive Vice President Mark Ginsberg, Volgenau School of Engineering Dean Ken Ball, and Mechanical Engineering Department Chair Leigh McCue.

“YouTube videos and PowerPoints only go so far in explaining the complexities of vertical lift,” Gallo says, “so having the Fairfax Police here helped our students understand how the helicopter rotor generates lift and allows it to fly in all directions.”

Mechanical engineering senior Mason Chee agrees. “We were able to look inside at the controls that they use to pilot a helicopter, and we learned about some of the effects the helicopter encounters during its flight. You can read about the theories and watch videos about them, but nothing comes as close as seeing it live.”

Vanessa Barth, a mechanical engineering senior, adds, “They were teaching us about the mechanical components and systems that control a helicopter. It was all information we talked about in class, but to see it in person was helpful.”

Gallo says the Fairfax Police were highly engaging and did an outstanding job answering questions, not only from our students but also from the faculty and staff in attendance.