Aerospace Design - Now a Game that the Whole Classroom Can Play! Written 16 October 2014

By Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications (2008-2017)

Dr. Atul Kelkar, AIAA Associate Fellow and CEO and Founder of VSI Aerospace, Inc.

The frequent complaints given in classrooms across our nation for a lack of interest in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics is “they’re boring.” “They’re boring” is soon followed by “and complicated.” VSI Aerospace hopes that its brand new creation, the DAVinCI Flight Game will change all of that.

“DAVinCI Flight is a 3-D multiplayer game built on top of a suite of real engineering design tools, which will challenge students to virtually build a variety of aerospace vehicles in order to complete specific ‘missions’” explained Dr. Atul Kelkar, AIAA Associate Fellow and CEO and Founder of VSI Aerospace, Inc. in Des Moines, Iowa. “DAVinCI’s purpose is to inspire the next generations of students, who will be grappling with the newly instituted Next Generation Science Standards, and it will help them understand how math and science are useful in real life, greatly reinforcing their mastery of classroom concepts.”

Kelkar explained that the game “features an array of modules ranging from short, 15-minute design challenges to longer project-based learning – with each of the modules reinforcing a key concept from mathematics or science.” In short, instead of reading design theory and concepts in a book, the student will be able to “build” and “fly” virtual creations that will allow them to learn the principles of sound engineering in “real-time,” while “giving them a practical demonstration of their creations.” Available design types within the game range from simple gliders to complex jets and rockets, giving students experience with the same concept across all forms of aerospace design. The game helps students to learn concepts by experimenting with the vehicle’s wing area, length of wing, fuselage shapes, etc. If they crash, the program allows them to go to the black box on the plane, putting them “back in the lab” for a full crash-investigation and data analysis system.

DAVinCI allows kids to have fun while they are learning, as they can “race one another, form design teams with kids in their class, or around the world; track the progress of their designs over time, and compete head-to-head in design and building challenges with other students.” Kelkar added, “given the modular design of DAVinCI, students will not become bored – because there will always be new missions to challenge their skills.” More practically, the game gives schools a reason to use the 3-D printers that many have purchased, while reinforcing the skills needed to use those systems.”

“The nice part about the game,” explained Kelkar, “is that it really is easy to play – we tested it out on students of all ages, and while it’s designed for junior high students and up, we had two 5th graders play, and within minutes they were fully immersed in the game. And that is what we were really looking for, ways for students to immerse themselves in learning aerospace design and concepts in a way that will pull them into the curriculum not push them out.”

While inspiring students, DAVinCI also provides teachers with all the tools necessary to customize lessons for their classes. “Teachers get a ‘workbench’ where they can program the lesson(s) they want to teach, and have DAVinCI select the mission(s) that best reinforce the concepts the lessons propose. The game even challenges teachers to master the concepts being taught “by requiring each teacher to pass an instruction module before unlocking the ability to allow them to use the module in class.”

When asked about the future of DAVinCI, Kelkar explained that “right now they have the ability to fly a facsimile of a real plane, inside the game – flow code, real physics, real-time performance, the works. Now we are working toward building modules for underwater vehicles in light of the interest expressed from U.S. Navy’s STEM outreach office that will allow students to design their own submarines to tackle underwater missions.” Kelkar said that eventually, “DAVinCI will be used to design cars for Pinewood Derby competitions, allowing students to experiment with, and optimize, their designs in the same way NASCAR racing teams do.

DAVinCI asks the question – “Could inspiring the next generation of the aerospace community, and increasing student mastery of STEM concepts, be as simple as child’s play?” Based on what this reporter has seen of the system, the answer seems to be yes. It lets kids have fun while learning important concepts. For more information on the DAVinCI Flight system, please visit