Hangar of the Future (HOF)

 Hangar of the Future Research Laboratory is a research arm of the Aerospace & MRO Technology Innovation Center in the School of Aviation and Transportation Technology at Purdue.  The student experience in HOF involves practical research, rapid and innovative solution development and - because we like to lean out "where the light bends" - testing some far out, novel uses of existing technologies applied to the aerospace manufacturing and air transportation operational environment.

Our projects span much of the industry including design, manufacturing, air transport and MRO operators who are all connected within the tightly coupled, Big Data "neuro-net" that is 21st century air transportation. Some high profile examples of innovative student projects receiving industry attention:

Creating hybrid 3D graphics based air vehicle work instructions (can go from paper based to full electronic and back again) using interactive Augmented Reality applications.  










Design and 3D print air vehicle replacement parts, installing them on our own laboratory aircraft.  


Blending old and new AutoID technologies like 2D Bar Code, RFID and NFC to track and identify parts.

Developing a real-time Risk-Hazard threat management and alerting system for front line maintenance and airport ramp operations. 

Our Mission: 

Use technology to advance air transportation process Safety, Quality and Reliability outcomes in a rapidly evolving sensor-embedded industry of "smart everything". We also want to save the whales, but one thing at a time.

The lab’s mission reflects the U.S. Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) philosophy of creating a network-enabled environment supporting people working in complex risk-sensitive aerospace and air transportation operations.  And to use as many hyphenated word pairs as possible.


  All projects must enable operational Safety, Quality and Reliability which ultimately impact Airworthiness - the real bottom line in aviation.   




Our Purpose is all about Students.  You will be pushed to:

  • Identify industry's most urgent needs... then accept the challenge and risk of pioneering new technology solutions while working with diverse teams - just like in industry.

  • Learn by rapidly researching, solving "impossible" problems and discovering opportunities to adapt - The very hallmarks of innovation! 

  • PRODUCE. Make cool stuff that helps others, advances the body of knowledge, solves problems in the industry.


Our Vision: Develop Innovative Thought Leaders Who Change The World

Students engineer novel data support systems targeted at delivering assistive technical data on-demand, to the point of manufacture or maintenance.  We use popular, mostly low cost devices (smart phones, tablets, pads, or emerging 'smart' apparel).  Sounds easy.  But students must also address unyielding end-user requirements for any project data system in an industry of hazardous, complex systems:

  • -Cost, ROI, scalability, operational safety and efficiency impact assessment
  • -Contextually relevant - only the data I need, where I need it, when I need it
  • -Secure and version controllable
  • -Highly visual and intuitive (lightweight 3D graphics for example), and
  • -Human-friendly - leverage technology, not be bound by it.

So, what happens when they do all that?

Hangar of the Future student research design teams working under Professor Ropp have won and placed in FAA’s National Design Competition for Universities twice for innovative project designs impacting safety and efficiency of aviation operations. In 2015 they took first place in Boeing's national IT Case competition for development of software to find manmade objects scattered over terrain using LIDAR data point mapping. Top student researchers routinely present at high profile industry and academic conferences like the Oshkosh EAA Airshow in Oshkosh, WI., American Society of Airport Executives NextGen Conference in Denver CO.


 or, the International Symposium on Aviation Psychology in Dayton, OH...









 ...or, Purdue "Tech Week" and numerous other invited presentations and Engineering Symposium technology demonstrations.







Students get to work directly with global leaders in aerospace and air transportation, sometimes assisting on very high level technology development projects, like when Boeing's Phantom Works came to town...and used the school's own B-727 large airplane and Hangar of the Future undergraduate students to help test Next Generation inspection concepts!


They also get invited to attend cool banquets like the annual Pathfinder Awards Banquet in Seattle, Wa. at Boeing Field's Museum of Flight in October 2014 (our second year in a row!).  In addition to touring the Boeing Red Barn where it all began and attending special receptions at the Air and Space Museum, they met one of the aerospace industry's pioneers, Mr. Bill Boeing Jr., shook hands with one of only 24 astronauts to have flown to the moon (Apollo 12), spoke with some of the Aerospace industry's most prominent leaders and demonstrated their own cool research to students from one of the premier aviation high schools in the country...you know...all in a day's work.



Student teams even have provisional patent submissions on several projects. The Hangar of the Future lab and its incredible students have been featured in Popular Mechanics magazine, Aviation Week and Space Technologythe Big Ten Network and have ben recognized in local media and various recruiting and alumni magazines at Purdue. 

Students also partner with other Polytech areas like Computer Graphics Technology to create 3D specialty graphics or explore innovative parts tracking technologies.



Facility Location Faculty Contact
NISW Hangar 1 Timothy Ropp, Ph.D.