Defense

March 31, 2014

Pilot mentoring program propels the future of hypersonics, young engineers

Colin Vandercreek, a University of Maryland student, works in the Arnold Engineering Development Complex White Oak Student Lab developing non-intrusive diagnostics for use in the Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9.

Hypersonic research and several young engineers are reaping the benefits of a pilot mentoring program at Arnold Engineering Development Complex’s Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9, White Oak, Md.

The program, the Hypersonic Center of Testing Excellence (HCoTE), began in fiscal 2011 and combines two organizations that provide funding, instruction and testing.

“In the short time we have been running this pilot program, we have seen extraordinary gains in test technology and employee growth and we have already seen students placed in the T&E (testing and evaluation) enterprise – one at Tunnel 9 and one at Pax, Navy [Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md. – NAVAIRSYSCOM],” said Dan Marren, the AEDC White Oak Site director and HCoTE co-founder. “Hardly a week goes by that I am not reminded of the gains from this activity.”

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research, one of the funding organizations, teamed with the University of Maryland to fund students and research which began in fiscal 2011 and will end in fiscal 2017. The Department of Defense’s Test Resource Management Center, the second funding organization, provides funds for testing, hardware and instrumentation for the students to conduct research. TRMC’s support began in fiscal 2012 and will extend to fiscal 2016.

The program, the first of its kind, is geared toward preparing future engineers in leading the hypersonic testing and evaluation field while conducting basic and applied research testing for the U.S. Air Force, DOD and hypersonic T&E communities.

A brief given by the University of Maryland and Tunnel 9 presented that current T&E personnel are nearing retirement and that there is an insufficient investment in new and young engineers.

Marren and co-founder Dr. Mark Lewis, the Science and Technology Policy Institute director, suggest that the pilot program will be instrumental to hypersonic research developments.

“My hope is that we are able to successfully navigate this pilot and mine lessons learned and strategies that actually are useful in workforce development,” Marren said. “As our simple concept “learn by doing” progresses, it is my hope that aspects of our program are applied to other areas of hypersonic T&E where we as a nation have a shortfall in our hypersonic testing workforce.

“That said, today, a national study team from OSTP (Office of Science and Technology Policy) and TRMC are looking really closely at our program to see if they can base a national plan on this pilot.”

Currently there are six Tunnel 9 personnel mentoring nine graduate students and nine undergraduate students in the program from the University of Maryland. Students are involved in research activities related to unsteady shocks, turbulence characterization, simulation, modeling and validation. The students’ work in diagnostics include temperature sensitive paint (TSP) and focused and background-oriented Schlieren (BOS).

Marren explained that the students’ knowledge and expertise have grown as well as the mentors.

“I have seen, in the last three years, great changes in how we accomplish our tasks,” Marren said. “While it started out as a program that required a lot of high level guidance, each year mentors and students grow, the research matures, and this program is beginning to run itself.

“One day, while touring the student lab with a distinguished visitor, I noticed a student, a young Tunnel 9 engineer and a rotational Navy employee in the lab working on a device. When I inquired as to what it was, they informed me that the upcoming experiment required a certain UV light source that did not exist on the market. With a mechanical designer, they conceptualized a new product, designed it and built them. The fact that they were empowered to solve a problem on their own and in the process came up with a device that never existed, all without my knowledge, was telling. That day I knew our program was doing something right.”

 

Young engineer successes

 

One of the students Marren mentioned who is employed at Tunnel 9 as a result of the student program is Inna Kurits.

Kurits is a journeyman project engineer at Tunnel 9 and began her career as a Tunnel 9 undergraduate and graduate student in the program. She later accepted employment at Tunnel 9 and serves as a mentor in the HCoTE program. Kurits’s work as a student at Tunnel 9 involved research with TSP.

Marren said, “She helped pioneer temperature sensitive paints while a student and today is leading the aerospace field in the application of parameter sensitive coatings.” The coatings are a requirement now and used with every test program at Tunnel 9.

Kurits mentored, then graduate student, Pratik Bhandari in the HCoTE program. Bhandari is the other student Marren referenced who is employed at the NAVAIRSYSCOM.

Bhandari, an aerospace engineer, worked as a graduate student at Tunnel 9 developing ways to characterize and calibrate temperature sensitive coatings in the student lab. He recalled his experience in the program.

“I had the opportunity to work at AEDC Tunnel 9 for just over 4 years. I started work at the tunnel as an undergraduate intern after finishing up my sophomore year at the University of Maryland and continued working with the tunnel all the way up to the completion of my master’s thesis in December 2012,” Bhandari said. “When I came in as an undergrad, I had very little hands-on lab experience and I wasn’t aware of practical considerations in terms of the design of experiments or dealing with uncertainty and error in my measurements, for instance. I was able to improve my understanding of these topics, among others, while working on a project that Inna Kurits and Joe Norris were developing and introducing into the tunnel utilizing TSP to determine global heat transfer on wind tunnel models.”

Bhandari said the mentors from Tunnel 9 and his University of Maryland faculty advisor Dr. Kenneth Yu, “were instrumental in developing my communication and presentation skills which, frankly, are sometimes overlooked in traditional engineering curricula. These skills have been crucial in my current work and I use them time and again on a daily basis.

“I would say to an aspiring engineering student that the HCoTE program will introduce them to the practical realities of problems that textbook examples simply cannot address and that, in my experience, the workforce skills that are developed along the way are invaluable learning opportunities that will help no matter what you end up doing later on in your career.”




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