Inertia, proverse yaw, bifilar sensitivity, aileron deflection, doublet maneuvers – throw in a few mathematical equations that have more letters than numbers and it’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.
However, that is what 10 NASA interns from the NASA Aeronautic Academy at Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., worked on during their 10-week internship program.
“It is really hard for me to verbalize the whole NASA intern experience,” said Kimberly Callan, 20, from Sheboygan, Wisc., who is studying aeronautical and mechanical engineering at University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Totally awesome is the best I can come up with.”
Around the age of two, Callan recalls receiving a little airplane whose nose lit up when it was pushed. It was her favorite Christmas present and it ignited her desire to fly. By the age of six she wanted to work for NASA and by 18 she had her private pilots license.
Under the mentorship of Albion Bowers, associate director for Research; Dr. Oscar Murillo and Brian Taylor, interns worked with a glider model (PRANDTL-D) that is built of composite wrapped foam core. The 12.3-foot model weighs approximately 14 pounds, looks like a flying wing and was used to “determine the mass properties in order to create a dynamic model and calculate the stability and control derivatives both from simulation and flight, to demonstrate proverse yaw.”
As it is with flight test, some days did not go as hoped.
“We couldn’t get in a long flight to get all the data we needed but as Oscar said, even a crash isn’t a failure because you are still learning. Boy, did we learn a lot!” explained Stephanie Reynolds who is from Rosamond, Calif., and studying mechanical engineering at Cal State University Long Beach.
Students learned more than engineering from their mentor’s enthusiasm and attitude. “They made us figure things out for ourselves and treated us like real engineers. From their actions we learned how to stay positive, keep testing and not to give up.”
“I came here 30 years ago on a student program because someone believed in me and took a chance on me. Our director, David McBride, also came here because of a student program,” said Bowers. “These students are our future and in a like manner, this little aircraft points to a brighter future, with a higher efficiency possible than anything flying today.”
The UAV Prandtl-D project has the promise of 40-60 percent efficiency improvement in aircraft performance, and about 13 percent improvement in turbine systems.
The interns presented their project at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and also visited NASA Goddard in Maryland and Ames in San Jose, Calif. Callan met both of her senators and her congressman in Washington.
After visiting Scaled Composites in Mojave and other smaller aerospace companies, intern Joseph Wagster IV, 22, changed his direction.
Being a bit of an overachiever and very family oriented, Wagster realized that if he worked for a small company, he would become consumed and live at his job.
“At NASA you work as a team and you do your part, but at the end of the day, you go home,” said Wagster. He is studying aerospace engineering at Cal State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and is thinking about getting his Ph. D and teaching engineering.
Steffi Valkov, 24, of San Gabriel, Calif., used to watch the planes take off at Los Angeles Airport with her father.
“We would sit and watch for hours. I was so amazed that something heavier than air could fly,” she said. “I was about seven and tried to wrap my head around that.”
Valkov’s father had her help him change tires, batteries and general up keep of his car. They also played Super Nintendo that made her interested in hardware and software. From third grade through high school she was a GATE student and recently graduated from aerospace engineering at Cal State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
“This internship has been an incredible experience and I definitely feel that I applied my aerospace knowledge to the Prandtl-D project,” said Valkov. Her dream job would be working full time at NASA. “I love visiting the AV (Antelope Valley) because of all the aircraft flying. I can’t get enough of them.”
Some of the students also met up with other interns from different programs and countries to experience skydiving, rock climbing, pool parties, concerts etc., and made life-long friends.
“Unfortunately, there is a downside of being at Dryden,” said Callan.” Unless I work for NASA someday, I don’t anything will ever top this amazing experience.”