Flying High

For Raisbeck Engineering founder and CEO, the key to successful engineering projects is cooperation, and he’s supporting faculty who teach it.

James Raisbeck (BSAAE '61, HDR '05) wants to ensure that future aerospace engineers know the value of teamwork.

"When I arrived at Boeing, I had to basically start from scratch to learn teamwork," he says. "Educators have come a long way since then, and it shows dramatically in the problem-solving and teamwork capabilities of students, both as interns and as new graduates. They are able to make meaningful contributions to project-oriented programs here at Raisbeck Engineering far sooner than was the case 30 years ago."

Purdue holds a bit of magic that sticks to its engineering graduates."

(BSAAE '61, HDR '05)

Through the Raisbeck Foundation, James and his wife, Sherry, pledged $500,000 to fund a class focused on a joint project between the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Department of Aviation Technology. Part of the gift will fund improvements for the engineering and technology composite laboratory at the Purdue Airport, where the new class will meet.

Students in the unique course, which was introduced this fall, will collaborate and interact through a joint design-and-build set of criteria appropriate for aerostructures. The student teams will focus on advanced composite structures. They will use modern simulation tools to design and manufacture prototypes that demonstrate acceptable manufacturability and performance. Each student will gain experience guiding experiments and also presenting their results to the class.

"Project-oriented learning is one of the most efficient ways of teaching team building," Raisbeck says. "Students of different educational backgrounds and expertise are able to recognize the benefits of employing portions of the others techniques in, for example, analyzing a problem in manufacturing and moving forward together."

The course is being developed by R. Byron Pipes, the John L. Bray Distinguished Professor of Engineering, and Ronald Sterkenburg, professor of aviation technology. Over the past several years, the two have developed other courses that bring engineering and aviation technology students together.

"The Raisbeck Foundation gift provides the funding required for preparation of the laboratory experiments and the support equipment needed to carry out the experiments," Pipes says. "This gift provides a vehicle for intermingling aeronautics and astronautics and aviation technology students in the conduct of experiments that will prepare the students for real-world application of composite materials to aerostructures."

"The cooperation between Engineering and Aviation Technology has always been good, and Dr. Raisbeck's gift will help us build on that partnership," Sterkenburg adds. "Our interdisciplinary course hits the sweet spot where materials science and manufacturing converge. Its a chance for students in the respective fields to understand and respect each others skills."

Professors Pipes (left) and Sterkenburg with Purdue's composite, carbon-fiber plane, the type of aerostructure that students will learn to design and manufacture.

Engineering Magic

Raisbeck hopes the new course will result in career-ready students who will continue the proud tradition of Purdue Engineering. He says Purdue's reputation was instrumental in his obtaining a post-graduation job as a research aerodynamicist at Boeing, a position that eventually led him to form Raisbeck Engineering, where he is currently chairman and CEO.

"Purdue holds a bit of magic that sticks to its engineering graduates," Raisbeck says. "I know in my heart of hearts that Boeing would not have seriously considered me for that position if I had graduated from somewhere else. Thanks to Purdue, my whole career was launched at a much higher level than I expected."

The new course also boosts Purdue's role as a leader in STEM and transformative education through innovative classes and unique experiences.

"America's position as world leader in technology oriented disciplines is being challenged as never before," Raisbeck says. "STEM-oriented teaching is hugely important to help us maintain our lead in the world of technology and its obvious economic ramifications."

To lend your support to this or other initiatives in Aeronautics and Astronautics, contact Rita Baines, director of development, at 765-494-9124 or