June 2008 - February 2012
After graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2008, I was hired as a research engineer in the Flight Controls and Dynamics Branch at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC).
As part of a 6 month Accelerated Training Program (ATP), my initial task was to develop a Flight Test Maneuver Autopilot and Optimal Control Allocation for the X-48B. I also support flight tests in the control room as the Real-Time Stability Monitor. I gained experience in conducting research, flight test techniques and maneuver design, optimal control allocation, and control room staffing. I successfully completed my tasks and my ATP training with the end result being a presentation to senior management.
Following my ATP, I rotated for a tour in the Aerodynamics Branch. I led a team researching system identification and parameter estimation techniques for vehicles with many coplanar, multi-objective control surfaces. We conducted flight research on the X-48B aircraft. As part of this effort, we needed very accurate knowledge of the aircraft’s mass properties and control system, so I oversaw teams that conducted highly accurate moment of inertia swings and control surface sweeps. I successfully led the flight test campaign and data analysis on the X-48B. This included designing flight test maneuvers, working with Boeing to develop flight software and flight test cards, and working with the operations team and maintainers to ensure we met our schedule. I led the team through the flight safety review process and was the lead in the control room. We completed 14 test flights consisting of over 450 test points and set many records on the aircraft for flight time and operational tempo. The research resulted in many publications, novel flight test techniques, and an expanded knowledge in the community of how to perform parameter estimation accurately on these newer vehicles. I received an On the Spot award for leading the research project and the flight test campaign.
Next, I led a team to conduct research into feedback structural information into an optimal control allocation control law to keep a transport aircraft below its load limits. This research would enable aircraft that are significantly lighter and more fuel efficient. Our team established the foundation for research into this field, active control of aircraft structures, and developed a control law that worked well in simulation. Later, after I left NASA, this research was successfully flight tested on NASA F-18 853 and is the basis for some current research programs.
I moved into a Technical Leadership position as the head of Subsonic Fixed Wing Flight Controls and Dynamics at AFRC. In this capacity, I conducted strategic planning into what our research portfolio should look like and managed the project leads. One significant contribution I made was to consolidate our research portfolio to focus on active control of flexible aircraft. As part of this process I advocated for and negotiated the partnership between NASA, the Air Force Research Labs (AFRL), and Lockheed Skunkworks on the X-56A aircraft.
Following 18 months leading Subsonic Fixed Wing Flight Controls and Dynamics, I moved back to X-48B where I led research in a novel flight test technique and data analysis method to quickly calibrate aircraft air data systems. I developed the method, conducted simulation studies, and published the results. This research was flight tested by NASA Langley Research Center and has impacted the flight test community by significantly reduces the cost and time to conduct flight research.
Next, I recognized an opportunity to significantly reduce fuel consumption of aircraft by making small adjustments to throttle settings in cruise to reduce aerodynamic trim drag. I developed optimal control algorithms for this technique and led a team to take those algorithms and develop, implement, validate, and test this flight control software on X-48B. I worked with Boeing engineers and managers to develop requirements, work breakdown structures, and schedules. We developed and validated the software in high fidelity simulations and I shepherded the project through the flight approval process. We worked with the Boeing operations team and pilots to develop flight test maneuvers and a flight test plan. Although I left NASA prior to flight testing the control laws, in simulation my algorithms showed a significant fuel consumption improvement (3-5%); this research was published and is an exciting design tool available to aircraft engineers.
In late 2008, I recognized a need in the NASA AFRC internship programs for group research projects. At the time, most of the Center’s interns were high school students assigned to individual mentors. Given the relatively small size of the Center’s engineering staff and the large number of summer interns, the cost on the Center was high and the interns mostly had poor experiences.
I developed the concept of having a low-cost, small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) that the interns could develop and flight test during summer under the guidance of a few engineers. This would be an exciting and realistic experience for the students, reduce cost to the Center (due to reduced number of staff needed to support the interns), and provide a low-cost platform for early stage research.
I presented this concept to all of the Research Engineering Directorate Branch Chiefs and then to the Center Executive Leadership Team. I received approval for a small-scale test of the concept and a modest budget. I assembled a team and we ran the program successfully in the summer of 2009.
We received much more support for running the program in the summer of 2010 and the students developed a very capable low-cost UAV providing an initial model by conducting and analyzing inertia swings and flight data.
Students briefing prior to a flight test
Students operating a ground control station
Management of the program was passed on to other staff starting in the summer of 2011. The platform continued to be developed and improved, contributing to research such as Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance Systems (Auto-GCAS) and the Towed Glider Air-Launch System (TGLAS). Derivatives of the program in 2012 through 2014 included college students flight testing an aircraft with a novel lift distribution, PRANDTL-D, which may significantly improve fuel consumption of future aircraft.
I was awarded an On the Spot Award “For excellent initiative and creative approach in advocating, developing, and implementing a unique and rewarding program.”