EVERETT — With support from the Boeing Co., a new program that prepares college students for careers in aerospace is getting a test run at Washington State University in Everett and Clemson University in South Carolina.
Five WSU students and five Clemson students have teamed up to develop an autonomous system that can rapidly disinfect airplane cabins at a reasonable cost to airlines.
Since June, the team has been meeting and working virtually.
The group met for the first time in October when the Clemson students visited the Pacific Northwest for five days and attended classes at WSU in Everett.
Meeting in person and “getting to know everyone is good for the team and good for the project,” said Kenneth Graham, a senior marketing major at Clemson and a team member.
Boeing, which operates commercial airplane assembly factories in Renton, Everett and North Charleston, South Carolina, is footing the bill for the team’s project.
This year, Boeing consolidated production of the Boeing 787, which had been assembled in Everett, at the company’s South Carolina factory. The South Carolina plant, which delivered its first 787 in 2012, is about 230 miles from Clemson University. The last Everett-built Dreamliner rolled off the assembly line at the Paine Field factory in March of this year.
“I think this is a natural pairing because Boeing has major locations in Everett and South Carolina,” said Jacob Murray, associate professor of electrical engineering at WSU Everett, who is co-leading the project with Brad Putman, a professor of civil engineering at Clemson University.
Earlier this year, the two professors contacted Boeing to ask if the Chicago-based airplane-maker would support the two-university program.
When Boeing said yes, the project got underway.
“At WSU Everett, collaboration is in our DNA,” Chancellor Paul Pitre said. “As we prepare the next generation of aerospace thinkers and leaders — many of whom will work at Boeing – it makes sense to partner and model the kind of creative collaboration our industry partners want.”
The team has a year to develop an autonomous system that can disinfect airplane cabins. Students could not discuss the project or their progress because they signed a non-disclosure agreement with Boeing.
“Airlines are looking for ways to efficiently and quickly disinfect the aircraft’s interior,” Boeing wrote in a recent report.
An airline typically readies a single-aisle airplane for its next flight in 30 minutes, so “the target disinfection duration is 10 minutes,” the report said.
The team toured Boeing’s aircraft assembly plant and maintenance provider Aviation Technical Services at Paine Field in Everett, and Electroimpact, a Mukilteo company that designs and manufactures aerospace assembly tools.
In April, WSU Everett students will travel to Clemson University.
There the team will present the completed project, including a business plan and marketing campaign, to Boeing executives.
In the meantime, they will continue to work on the project virtually.
Being on a team with engineers, industrial designers and business students has been an eye-opening experience, said David Nurminen, who is majoring in business management at Clemson.
“I learned a lot about how engineers tackle problems and how business people tackle problems. I’ve grown to appreciate that, as well as learning from them and their different models,” said Nurminen, 22, whose professors encouraged him to apply for the program.
Nichole Bascue, 29, is using the skills she’s learned as an integrated strategic communication major at WSU Everett to create the group’s marketing and branding materials.
“I am going to be helping them get their names out there, so I am their launch pad,” Bascue said.
“Providing students with opportunities to address real-world challenges through experiential learning is at the core of a Clemson education,” Clemson Provost Bob Jones said. “The knowledge and experience these students will gain from the ability to directly interface with Boeing highlight the benefits of industry partnerships in higher education.”
Boeing is providing the group with $12,500 to pay for travel expenses.
“We are proud to support students in the states where many of our employees live and work,” said Craig Bomben, vice president of Boeing Flight Operations.
Boeing is a large employer of Clemson and WSU graduates, the company said.
“This unique partnership helps facilitate a robust talent pipeline while helping students fulfill their career ambitions,” Bomben said.