Hands-On Learning Opportunities

The Aerospace Engineering Department at Iowa State offers a wide array of hands-on activities that are dedicated to the undergraduate curriculum and are designed to provide a practical hands-on experience that complements engineering analysis.

students working in lab setting

Hands-On Laboratories

Freshman Lab

Your first experience in designing flying craft as a member of an aerospace team will be as part of the Freshman Lab at Iowa State. Students in the lab are exposed to engineering practices and are challenged to design and control a lighter than air vehicle.

Aerodynamics and Propulsion Lab

As part of the undergraduate curriculum students conduct experiments on airfoils and wings, as well as supersonic flows through nozzles and a laboratory scale jet engine. Students also have access to two large wind tunnels for courses and senior aircraft design projects.

Structures Lab

In addition to courses in materials science, solid mechanics, aerospace structures and state-of-the-art computer software for structural analysis, the aerospace department has a stand-alone hands-on structural mechanics lab that covers structural testing and non-destructive evaluation needed for advanced manufacturing in modern aerospace applications. Students can also pursue an undergraduate certificate in applied non-destructive evaluation of structures.

Aerospace Composites Lab

Explore techniques for working with fiberglass and carbon fiber composites. Students build and test composite structures that are commonly used in the aerospace industry. The department also offers a popular senior elective in the theory, manufacture and testing of composite materials.

Computer Lab

In addition to open computer labs available across campus, the department maintains two dedicated computer labs for use by juniors and seniors. State-of-the-art software for Computer Aided Design (CAD), Finite Element Methods (FEM) for structures and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) for aerodynamics and propulsion are used in courses, student projects and senior design.

Flight Simulation Lab and Flight Experience

You’re the pilot in simulated flight exercises. Experienced flight instructors teach students the fundamentals of aircraft flight mechanics and operations and lead students through a flight test campaign. Students who wish to go further can take ground school at Iowa State and enroll in a local flight school to obtain their pilot’s license.

Make to Innovate (M:2:I)

Make to Innovate (M2I) provides a unique exposure to multi-disciplinary team design. Projects range from high altitude ballooning, rocket competitions, unmanned aircraft, to lunar and Mars rovers and many others. Students starting in the first year can collaborate with engineering students from other departments on projects that last for many years.
Make to Innovate website

3D Printing Lab

Students use computer aided design (CAD) to design and fabricate components for projects in the Make to Innovate (M2I) Lab, senior capstone design and other student projects. This additive manufacturing approach is used throughout the aerospace industry.

Spaceflight Simulation Lab

The Spaceflight Simulation Lab uses a large neutral buoyancy tank to simulate the microgravity environment of space. The tank can also be used to assess space system designs and operations in simulated lunar and Mars gravity. Students use the neutral buoyancy tank to design and test spacecraft attitude control systems in senior capstone astronautics design.

student with rockets

Experiential Learning

Aircraft Capstone Design

Students design, construct, and flight-test aircraft to accomplish a stated mission objective. Design ranges from first-principal aircraft flight mechanics to modern CFD and FEM analysis of aerodynamics and aircraft structures to wind tunnel testing of airframes and engines to flight testing of the final aircraft design. This course employs a spiral design approach that allows students to learn from failures and improve their design.

Spacecraft Capstone Design

Students design and construct six degree of freedom vehicles to operate in space. Recent projects have included analogues of a remote unmanned drone to survey the exterior of a space station for damage. Projects typically involve analysis and testing of attitude control systems of the spacecraft analogues in the Iowa State’s neutral buoyancy tank.


Students in the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) are partnered with faculty to explore cutting edge research topics related to small, unmanned aerospace systems (UAS). This competitive program provides exposure to high level research topics.
LAUNCH-UAS website

Spaceflight Operations Workshop™

The Spaceflight Operation Workshop™ is run by department alumnus, retired NASA astronaut and President & CEO of the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum, Clayton Anderson. It teaches students to think operationally and develop the skills to overcome challenges and adversity.
Spaceflight Operations Workshop™ webpage

Student Organizations

The wide variety of student clubs and organizations at Iowa State are a great way to get involved in something that fits your interests and goals.
View a list of student organizations.

Student Innovation Center

The Student Innovation Center (SIC) inspires students, faculty, and staff to innovate through experimentation, interdisciplinary collaboration, and the free exchange of ideas. The SIC provides students access to a wide variety of cutting-edge tools, ranging from state-of-the-art manufacturing robots to video and game creation studios. Educational programs at the SIC also expose students to entrepreneurial skills taught by top industry leaders.
Student Innovation Center website