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NASA Associate Head of Aeronautics Research Expects Stronger Partnering with Universities

Lisa Porter, NASA’s new deputy administrator for aeronautics, sees a “strengthening” of partnerships with universities and a continued focus on “frontiers of flight,” she said during her first visit to Arnold Engineering Development Center.

In fact, partnering – or as AEDC Commander Brig Gen. David Stringer put it: “Building teams that make sense” – in an effort to “get the most bang for the buck” was the central theme espoused by Porter, Stringer, and Mark Lewis, U.S. Air Force’s chief scientist, in a press conference at AEDC April 6.

Porter sees universities facing more opportunities for faculty and graduate students to participate as “true partners in NASA’s cutting edge research.” She says “strategic decisions” will be made to advance NASA’s aeronautics testing program, which will emphasize “working with national partners.”

One objective in visiting AEDC was to evaluate opportunities for team work with the center, Porter said. She recently was quoted that a major goal was to “re-establish dedication to mastery of core competencies of aeronautics in subsonic (rotary and fixed wing) supersonic and hypersonic flight.”

“The American system is cooperation,” Stringer said. “We want to make this facility as friendly as the rules allow. There is no surcharge for NASA to test here. It is best if we cooperate with each other.”

In recent months, Porter has emphasized the importance of maintaining wind tunnel facilities, and both Stringer and Lewis emphasized the value of computational modeling as well as wind tunnels.

“Computational modeling will never replace wind tunnels,” Lewis said. “Computer modeling alone doesn’t solve the problems; they give us only approximations. We need both computers and wind tunnels to solve our problems.”

Stringer agreed, pointing out that simulation “has done some great things” including showing “how air is supposed to behave.” He said Edward Kraft, AEDC technical advisor, is working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, UT Chattanooga, UTSI, and others on behalf of computational modeling, “but you have to know the science first.”

Neither modeling nor wind tunnels totally represent “real life,” Stringer said, but “both reduce the rate of failures before full-scale testing starts.”

Porter and Lewis noted the importance of considering the nation’s wind tunnels and propulsion test facilities as a single set of resources regardless of whether owned by NASA or the Department of Defense.

“AEDC is one of our crown jewels as far as the facilities are concerned and as a knowledge base,” Lewis said, adding that an inventory of testing capabilities is being compiled to ensure that the most effective test facility is used.