Science and Technology News

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Simulation of Hypersonic Vehicle Structures at the Air Force Research Lab

Dr. Mike Spottswood is a aerospace research engineer at the Structural Sciences Center at the Air Force Research Lab. He is the recipient of the 2010 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers for his research simulating extreme environments on hypersonic vehicle structures.

As a civilian researcher for the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), I work on many exciting projects. It is very rewarding to have a job that allows me to continually explore new concepts in the development of aircraft technologies. Currently, I am part of the Structural Sciences Center (SSC), a small basic research group within AFRL. The objective of our group is to explore and develop methods for the simulation of hypersonic vehicle structures operating in extreme environments such as excessive temperatures, thermally-induced stresses and aeroacoustic loading. To put it simply, we would like the ability to simulate the response, material evolution and ultimately predict the useful life of these extreme-environment structures. In order to achieve this goal, the SSC conducts in-house research and experimentation, and we also have collaborative efforts with targeted groups in the aerospace industry, NASA, and the academic community.

I have worked for the U.S. Air Force for eight years as an active duty officer and for nine years as a civilian researcher at the Air Force Research Lab in Dayton, Ohio. In that time, and through various stages of technical work, I have recognized the need to accurately predict the response and life of realistic and representative aircraft structures. The state-of-the-art in aircraft analysis and design in many cases is to linearize the problem, while superposing the worst expected loading conditions. This approach has been sufficient for most traditional aircraft structures, but the difficulties encountered with extreme-environment structures are often nonlinear in nature.  Our group operates at the intersection of many disciplines and scales. Addressing the difficulties associated with extreme-environment structures is an enormous and exciting challenge. The audacity and technical difficulties of this goal, as well as the ability to learn from experts throughout the aerospace community and academia, is what drives me.

Recently, I was honored for my research efforts with the Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering (PECASE). This altogether unexpected honor was quite humbling, and is a reflection of our whole team’s efforts toward developing greater understanding of hypersonic structures and their unique operational environments. I hope to build upon this honor by continuing the research in this important field, hopefully someday studying large-scale, realistic and representative structures in a true hypersonic environment, either through wind tunnel testing or through flight test. By studying these structures in realistic, high-speed environments, we would be able to gain a more accurate understanding of the unique phenomena encountered under these conditions. Our team is always building toward the future, accumulating our knowledge base and learning more all the time.

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