Thursday, May 26, 2016

Story shared from U.S. Department of Transportation

- June 1, 2016

The FAA’s Centers of Excellence program has long leveraged the innovation and insight of college and university programs to supplement the agency’s important aviation research, as well as stimulate interest among higher-education students to consider careers in the field.

This year, the Department of Transportation selected two individuals working for the FAA’s COE program as two of their students of the year: Evan Harrison and Joseph Abrahamson. FAA’s COE program student of the year Joseph Abrahamson.

Harrison, a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, was recognized for his work in developing a performance model for fixed-wing general aviation aircraft. Data collected from using the performance model could be used in any number of beneficial ways, such as predicting the behavior of an aircraft in various dangerous scenarios and developing procedures to mitigate the risk and keep the plane safely flying.

The problem is there is a lack of data in general aviation for doing research, said Michael Vu, an electrical engineer in the NextGen Office’s Aviation Research Division. We sought to collect flight data by recording actual flight data in flight, to monitor the performance of the aircraft and capture data to do research.

That has proved difficult because relatively few of the 100,000 general aviation aircraft in the U.S. market have been equipped with the technology necessary to gather this information. That’s due in part to cost issues. Most [GA pilots] don’t have the resources to install the devices that capture the data.

And most of those GA planes that are equipped for data collection collect data on 64 performance parameters, less than half of what might be collected from major airliners.

So the Center of Excellence for General Aviation Safety decided that it and its academic partners would explore ways to derive useful information for GA safety analysis. Hence, the fixed-wing GA performance model.

Models describing the aircraft’s behavior must capture extreme conditions, common in safety-critical events, with great accuracy. These models are helping Harrison’s team to understand the energy state of aircraft at any given time, and to use energy-based metrics as a method for identifying unsafe states.

If you look at time-stamped recordings of the aircraft’s flight and use our models to estimate key parameters that are not recorded, like lift, drag, weight, and thrust you can describe its performance more completely, explained Harrison. Retrospectively, then, we can analyze when an aircraft has flown too close to the boundary of its performance envelope, he added.

In about a year, I believe the research will advance to a stage that it could derive information that would supplement the on-going collected flight data so we would be able to do more in-depth analysis, said Vu. The FAA/industry GA Joint Steering Committee is trying hard to convince GA pilots to collect and share flight data for safety analysis.

The DOT also honored Joseph Abrahamson, a doctoral student in energy and mineral engineering at Penn State University, for his work with the COE for Alternative Jet Fuels and environment.

Growing environmental consciousness combined with an ever-expanding air travel has prompted the aviation industry to consider using less-polluting fuels to power their aircraft.

You have aircraft operations that are growing every year for the next 20 to 25 years, said Carl Ma, an engineer in AEE. They put out a lot of pollutants, emissions that are detrimental to your health. So now we are looking for ways to reduce emissions. There are a number of ways to do that, he added.

One of those approaches is developing fuels that have properties that inhibit creation of pollutants. That’s what Joe is doing, said Ma. He’s looking at chemical properties of the fuel to predict what kind of emission will come out of the engine.

Abrahamson is developing a model that predicts nvPM emissions from jet engines burning conventional and alternative fuels at both ground and cruise altitude. nvPM emissions are known to negatively impact both climate and human health. The model will allow the FAA and industry to improve estimating nvPM inventory in the current fleets of airline operators.

The model is optimized to accurately predict nvPM emission form the current in-service aviation fleet, said Abrahamson. This model can be applied to conventional and alternative jet fuels at ground and cruise, and can be used to improve nvPM inventory estimates from the current fleet.

For both Harrison and Abrahamson, their COE work has proved personally and professionally fulfilling.

I have been fascinated with aircraft since a very young age, and chose early on to pursue a career in the aviation industry, said Harrison. It has been immensely rewarding to have the chance to help improve the community’s understanding of flight safety and to know that the work I am a part of can positively impact the general aviation community, said Harrison.

It has been a great reward to meet so many brilliant minds from academia, government, and industry because of my involvement with ASCENT, said Abrahamson. Many of [them] I idolize for their work in the field and putting a face or voice to the name is an incredible experience.

Abrahamson added that his experience with the COE has greatly increased his interest in aviation. He is now seeking his pilot’s license and taking lessons on a Piper Warrior III at the local University Park Airport. Additionally, Abrahasmon aspires to build his own personal single propeller aircraft. As for a job in aviation, Abrahamson was succinct: Inform the recruiters!