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Teamwork in Aerospace
Background Material


These pages describe an educational activity which has presented by Tom Benson of the NASA Glenn Research Center at several schools and workshops. There are two main objectives to the activity; one is to expose the students to the operation of the aerospace industry, and the other is a team dynamics exercise.

The exercise usually begins with about a 5 minute overview of how aerospace works. It is surprising how many students believe that the Air Force makes and flies their own airplanes. Students are introduced to the aerospace industry with its reliance on universities, business, and government labs for research, large manufacturing companies to produce aircraft, and multiple users such as the military, the airlines, and NASA. An overview slide of the industry is shown here:

Aerospace businesses

The key point here is that there are three major parts to the aerospace industry; the research groups like NASA who figure out how aerodynamics and propulsion works, the suppliers like Boeing who make aircraft, and the users like the Air Force who fly the aircraft. People interested in careers in aerospace can join any part of this structure based on heir own talents and interest. (Interestingly, the Wrights brothers did all three parts themselves between 1900 and 1905!)

There is a defined process by which the users obtain aircraft from the suppliers called the acquisition process:.

The acquisition process

The user has some need for an aircraft and a mission that the aircraft is to perform. The needs are determined by the user and the user defines his needs in a Request for Proposal (RFP). The RFP is a document that spells out what the aircraft must do. The user publishes this document and the various suppliers must make a determination if they can design an aircraft which meets the needs of the user. In the best of all worlds, the supplier already has an aircraft that is close and can modify an existing aircraft. If not, the supplier proposes a new design to the user based on results from the research groups. The user normally receives more than one response to the RFP and must determine which design can best meet the mission. The user often conducts a competition between rival suppliers to determine the best aircraft and to lower the cost of the aircraft. The winning design is awarded a contract for production and the supplier produces some agreed upon number of aircraft for the user.

Aerospace companies are normally very large.They may have subsidiary units, or even smaller companies, spread around the country to perform a variety of functions.

An aerospace company

The major functions of any company are to design, manufacture, and test aircraft. Different groups of people perform these functions and there must be some co-ordination between the groups. This is one of the roles of management within the company. The managers are also responsible for the operation of the company and make the decisions about the response to RFP's from the users. Normally, the manager is the contact point between the user and the company. Inside the company, the manager has contact with the design, manufacture, and test groups. The designers also receive input from the test group, so that they can modify and improve their ideas. The designers provide input to the manufacturing section who then convert the ideas of the designers into physical aircraft. The manufacturers make the airplanes. The test group takes the aircraft from the manufacturers and determines if they meet the needs of the users. They often provide input back to the designers. Most aerospace companies have company test pilots who fly their aircraft before it is turned over to the user.

That's how the aerospace industry works. So let's try it out in our activity.

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CLICK HERE to download your own power point presentation of the entire activity.


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Editor: Nancy Hall
NASA Official: Nancy Hall
Last Updated: May 13 2021

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