Friday, January 26, 2007
Writer: Shanna Relford
Director of the AFRL’s Air Vehicles Directorate Visits UTSI, AEDC
Planes that fly without a pilot on board, aircrafts that take off like a rocket, planes changing shape in mid-air and flying in a Martian atmosphere were just some of the subjects discussed during Colonel John Wissler’s recent visit to the University of Tennessee Space Institute in Tullahoma.
Col. Wissler, Director of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Air Vehicles Directorate and Commander of the Wright Research Site at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, spent a very busy day touring UTSI and Arnold Engineering Development Center.
Col. Wissler looks out for the future of the United States Air Force by developing technology to sustain the current fleet of aircraft and leading the development of new air vehicles, including unmanned air vehicles, or UAV’s, and morphing aircraft, a new concept that involves actually changing the shape of a plane while in flight.
Col. Wissler has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland, a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology, and his doctorate in aeronautics from Caltech. In his career, he has been stationed at bases all over the country, including several years at the Pentagon, where he managed the planning, programming and budgeting Air Force’s $1.3 billion science and technology budget.
“Col. Wissler is a stand-out in the field of air vehicle technology,” said Dr. Donald Daniel, UT associate vice president and chief operating officer at UTSI. “He was anxious to learn about the research going on here at UTSI and share with us his challenges and discoveries regarding air vehicles.”
Col. Wissler’s visit began with a tour of UTSI’s aviation facility at the Tullahoma airport and a briefing by Aviation Systems Program Chair Dr. Stephen Corda. Corda explained that UTSI teaches students how to conduct flight research. “UTSI offers a master’s degree in Aviation Systems, and it is currently one of the university’s programs with the largest growth and growth potential,” said Corda. Corda went over some of UTSI’s aviation research projects, including a collaboration with NASA to perform in-flight simulation of a Mars airplane flying in a Martian atmosphere using the UTSI variable-stability Navion airplane, and a project researching the increase in polar mesospheric clouds, the highest clouds in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Upon arriving at UTSI’s main campus, Col. Wissler was briefed on recent research projects by UTSI professors Drs. Gary Flandro, Trevor Moeller and John Steinhoff. Flandro presented an overview of his research on the problem of oscillations causing combustion instability in rocket motors leading to severe system vibration, shortened lifespan of the motor and reduced performance. “In the past this problem has been handled on a system-by-system basis, but rubber gloves for leaky fountain pens are not the way to handle this problem,” said Flandro.
Dr. Moeller discussed his work with plasma sciences and said that potential areas of future research include plasma-enhanced combustion, magnetic nozzles, micropropulsion, nanoscale plasma sources, and plasma deposition of diamond-like carbon.
Dr. Steinhoff reported on his research into vortices created by aircraft in flight. Col. Wissler commented that the vortex problem “can be a huge issue, particularly for the Canadians and Australians who fly F-18’s exclusively.” “The problem has been very difficult to resolve using current computational methods,” Steinhoff said, “but it can be done if you put a little physics into the equation.”
After lunching with some of UTSI’s leadership, Col. Wissler toured the facilities at AEDC with Dr. Ed Kraft. Later, on a tour of UTSI, Col. Wissler visited with Dr. Ahmad Vakili, who explained some of the work being done with wind tunnels and water tunnels at UTSI, as well as their cutting-edge research on carbon fiber. Col. Wissler commented that strong, lightweight materials, such as what UTSI is working on with carbon fiber, will be the materials used to build future aircraft.
In his seminar for UTSI faculty and students, Col. Wissler explained the challenges that the USAF is facing today. “In a war with terrorism that has been going on since the 1980’s, our fleet of aircraft is constantly being used, and some of our aircraft are 25 years old, which means that somebody has got to design new planes” said Wissler.
Wissler talked about some of the innovative new technology in aviation, including the SkyTote, which takes off vertically, and UAV’s, which are used in the war overseas, but are controlled by a pilot on U.S. soil. He also said that they are looking into a morphing, or shape-changing, aircraft, which would have to be built from light, high strength materials that can withstand high temperatures in order to incorporate all the joints that would allow the aircraft to change shape.