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I left my old uni society for a year to work in industry, and in that time the team that succeeded me have designed and built most of the aircraft I was working on. Had it not have been for the pandemic, they'd be attempting to fly it - with a human inside - in a few weeks.

Worryingly, 70% of the redesign was done by a single first-year, and none of the upper-years in the team have checked his work.

I took a quick glance at some critical aspects of the design, and immediately found a fatal flaw in that the aircraft was incredibly unstable; a -15% static margin (which, for reference, is what the F-22 flies with.)

I tried to raise this concern (I was probably a little too confrontational about it) with the designer, and he started trying to downplay the issue, becoming extremely defensive and trying to distract the issue with "well, at least we built something". He wasn't willing to share any analysis he'd done with the team, and I strongly suspect he hasn't done any.

I still have serious concerns about the safety/basic airworthiness of the aircraft, and plan to check some other aspects of the design to make sure things are okay. If I find more problems, I want to raise them so they can get fixed.

TL;DR:

Have to convince a first-year at peak Dunning-Kruger that his design has serious flaws and needs redesign. Additionally, want to get other people on board with checking his work, and want to get him to start sharing his design justifications with the team. Need to do it without pissing off everyone involved (they're all happy that they got something built, and don't want to be told it won't fly).

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    You point fatal flaws with big red marker. And if it safety issue you should not care if you make people angry. It's better to have 2 maybe even 5 people angry than one with bruises, broken bones or worse. – SZCZERZO KŁY Apr 28 '20 at 11:11
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    I agree with the other comment. Interpersonal skills would be useful here if you had a different but equally credible idea and this was turning into something of a back and forth about what's better. What you describe here is a danger, and you need to feel ok being loud about it. Ask the group to meet, and point to the issue. You have the benefit of this being science and it doesnt sound like there is room for conjecture. – JenInCode Apr 28 '20 at 13:53
  • What is your role now? Why did you look at the design? All you said was that you "took a quick glance at some critical aspects of the design..." but not how you fit in. Do you have authority to say what you need? Are you able to speak to a supervisor? Better yet, write an email that documents your concerns. Apologize profusely for what looked like criticism when all you meant was a critique (they are not the same.) It's not about the new kid, it's about communicating in a way that you are heard. Always allow for the remote possibility that you could be wrong. – Yosef Baskin May 1 '20 at 20:46
  • I think the rule in the industry is that the designer is on board on the first flight... if they refuse you know it’s not safe. – gnasher729 May 7 '20 at 22:05
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When I first joined IPS (this website) I was really not that great at giving feedback. Often, I would leave comments asking people to improve their answers but people would take it badly and be angry at me.

Thankfully, I got to spend time in chat with "older" users (and mods) who help me phrase my feedback better. They gave me some meta post to read with good advice on them about "how to left a good comment under an answer" and here are the more important lessons I gather from here (and now my comments are usally much well received).


In my opinion, this post is the more important one about how to properly give feedback. Basically, when giving them, don't tell people they are wrong. Instead, ask a question.

People don't like being wrong. They don't like being told they are wrong. And if something like this happens, they will do everything in their power to try to prove that they weren't wrong (even if they are).

This is not productive. You don't want people to prove that they are right. You want them to think about it and improve their design if it can be improved.


This other answer as some useful general advice as well. The number one being "be polite and friendly". It might seem obvious to some people, but it wasn't for me. Now I always make sure to add a "hello person X" at the beginning of my comment when I give feedback and it does help smooth things over.

The answer also has some other advice that are helpful as well. Like "Use a soft tone", "Avoid negative words" and "Allow the person to save face".


To conclude, here are some other links that you might find helpful:


TL;DR

  • Be polite

  • Don't make affirmations, ask questions instead

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Divide your efforts.

There's really two problems to solve here. The first is that there's a first-year that you have to gently teach how to develop aircraft. The second is a safety critical concern.

These are almost independent concerns because the risks are so excruciatingly different. I don't know your university, but I expect that there is someone in faculty who is responsible for the safety of this effort. Universities tend to frown on accidentally killing students in airplane accidents, so there's typically someone in charge who has more experience than a first-year student. Find them, and talk with them. Explain that you have some concerns about the safety of the aircraft, and find out what procedures that have in place to ensure the aircraft is safe. There may be a particular point in the process where the aircraft is reviewed and your safety concerns can be addressed.

This responsible faculty member may ask more about your analysis right then and there, or they may want you to hold off until later. Remember that university is about the learning experience. There may be testing phases built into the overarching approach which will catch this error and give them a chance to learn from it. We learn far better from making mistakes than from someone telling us about them.

Once you are confident that there is a process in place to address your safety concerns, the stakes are much lower. Now you can address the first-year designer without having to address the responsibility of a human life. Why do they feel "well, at least we built something" is a valid defense? Find out. It might actually be a very valid defense. There may be schedule pressures which encourage the development of something to validate the effort, even if it fails to fly. Or maybe this designer really was stretched to their limit doing the re-design, and succeeding at flying was indeed their goal. Maybe they can be stretched more.

It's also worth interacting with the upper-classmen. Your wording suggests you feel they should have caught these issues. They didn't. Why? Its worth understanding why they didn't feel the analysis was important enough to double check.

On a related note, ask yourself why you care. Once the safety issues are out of the way, why does it matter to you that the aircraft is unstable. Is it because your name was on the design? Is it professional pride in making working aircraft? Is it empathy for a first-year student who is trying their hardest? Ask yourself why. Barring the safety issues, you may have to consider that you can't make the changes. You left. He/she finished the design work. You may have to wash your hands of it. Understanding why you care will help you decide whether you should wash your hands of it, smoothly and gently try to shape things better, or stand up and fight.

And again, I divide out the safety critical part, because that is absolutely a stand up and fight issue. But its a discussion with a different person with a different role. Look at the situation once you've taken the safety critical part out, and you may find that you can be more gentle.

And, as someone who got to work in industry during my schooling, remember that working in industry changes you. You become aware of many things that one is oblivious to after mere academic teachings. When discussing issues with others, be aware that they may simply not see an issue where you do.

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