College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Robert Martin: Teaching students to fly after 26 years in Air Force

Robert Martin
Robert Martin

Aerospace engineering lecturer reinvents flight simulator program

When Robert Martin began his career in the U.S. Air Force, he never imagined he would land an opportunity to teach others about flying in a university setting.

Martin served for 26 years in the Air Force and Iowa Air National Guard, flying F15 Eagles and F16 Fighting Falcons. While in the military, he also worked with the test and evaluation community and Distributed Training Operations Center.

After he retired from the Iowa Air National Guard in January 2014, Martin did not know what he wanted to do for the second half of his life. “I was looking for something different.” So, he began training pilots at the Iowa Air National Guard base, and after visiting Iowa State to speak with Richard Wlezien, professor and Vance Coffman Endowed Department Chair in Aerospace Engineering, he found his next career.

In addition to teaching at the Iowa Air National Guard, Martin now serves as a lecturer in Iowa State’s aerospace engineering department, where he reinvented the course Aer E 301—Flight Experience.

Upon coming to Iowa State, Robert Martin reinvented the flight simulator program for aerospace engineering students.
Upon coming to Iowa State, Robert Martin reinvented Aer E 301, which now uses a flight simulator (pictured).

Students in the class previously flew in a passenger plane for an hour. Martin said, “They were flown around and seldom touched the controls. Pilots would sometimes show them what all the gauges did and what they meant. They just flew around and landed.”

Wlezien wanted to change this “flight experience” to be more valuable. The duo began brainstorming and decided to use simulators to teach flight, checklists and how pilots and engineers interface with each other. Their idea proved to be valuable. “The simulator is a great place to teach. They can sit in a pilot’s seat and fly an aircraft with a very realistic simulator. It’s very engaging,” Martin said.

In the future, he would like to expand the program to develop other applications for the simulators. “Students and professors could do modeling in different classes and come to the simulator to fly it and experience the math in a realistic environment.” He also sees potential in using simulators in labs for senior-level classes.

Although Martin is not an aerospace engineer by trade, he graduated from Iowa State in the industrial education and technology in 1987. His three children have followed in his footsteps.