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The Aero Experience is a celebration of Midwest aviation and aerospace achievement. We invite you to join us as we explore the treasures of Midwest aviation through first-hand experiences. Our contributors take turns flying lead, and we are always looking for new destinations. Check in with The Aero Experience frequently to see where we will land today, and then go out and have your own aero experiences!

Blue skies,

Carmelo Turdo, Mark Nankivil and Fred Harl - The Aero Experience Team

Thursday, November 21, 2019

NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center Director Visits St. Louis

By Carmelo Turdo
David McBride, Director of NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center, visited St. Louis Tuesday to address students at Washington University. The event, sponsored by the university's chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), was held in the Uncas A. Whitaker Hall for Biomedical Engineering. Director McBride gave an overview of the center's current projects, focusing on leading edge research in the fields of supersonic aerodynamics and electric propulsion, and invited students to pursue careers in the aerospace industry.  

The Armstrong Flight Research Center, located adjacent to Edwards AFB in California, conducts advanced aeronautics, atmospheric and geophysical research with currently operational and purpose-built aircraft. The facility, named for astronaut Neil Armstrong, has been in operation under the then NACA since 1946 when the Bell X-1 project was preparing for high-speed research at then Muroc Army Air Base. Since then, a continuous series of research aircraft projects (X-series and others) has advanced the knowledge of the aerospace community and improved everyday life. The Armstrong Flight Research Center uses about $300M of the $21.5B annual NASA budget. 

"We are in the best place in the world to fly," he told the students in the packed lecture hall. The ideal climate and wide expanse of controlled airspace provides opportunities for year-round, overland supersonic research flights. Flying assets are also based around the world to participate in projects requiring different climates or a change in hemispheric location. The center's DC-8 Airborne Science Laboratory and 747SP Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) aircraft rotate their basing to accommodate comparative research plans. Other aircraft are regularly based in locations such as Iceland, Korea and Europe. 

Current unique research programs include the X-57 Maxwell electric propulsion demonstrator and X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft. These programs examine both ends of the performance envelope - hybrid-electric and electric short-range aircraft to overland supersonic transports. Both will enhance the aerospace industry's ability to provide efficient and economical air transportation with fewer environmental impacts. These multi-year programs will continue and evolve as the aircraft become available for testing.

A recurrent theme throughout the presentation and Q&A session was the need for an expanded aerospace workforce. "The future is bright," McBride told the students. "There is a lot happening in aerospace research." He emphasized that the shortage currently experienced in the skilled aerospace workforce will continue into the foreseeable future, with an expected $25B in future projects. Engineering students were advised to participate in NASA internships and industry co-op programs that offer work experience as a stepping stone to direct employment. 

The Aero Experience thanks the AIAA Washington University in St. Louis Student Section, Director McBride and all those who assisted in producing this program. For more information on the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, click on the link at the beginning of this story.

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