Vertical Flight Foundation Scholarships

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Vaibhav Kumar

Georgia Institute of Technology

Vaibhav Kumar studies at the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology. He is in the integrated B.S./M.S., and secured his B.S. in aerospace engineering in 2016. He has won the Hans and Gil Weichsel Scholarship, and the Robert W. Young Award for Research in Acoustics, as well as two Geogia Tech President’s Undergraduate Research Awards. Vaibhav’s research interest is in fundamental fluid mechanics, active flow control and thermoacoustics. Vaibhav won the undergraduate VFF scholarship in 2015. In his spare time, Vaibhav loves reading books, mixing music and working on DIY projects.

How did you get interested in vertical flight?

"My primary research focus is aerodynamics. The total scope of aerodynamic problems in vertical flight vehicles such as helicopters is extremely wide. One can find here problems such as dynamic stall, boundary layer control, compressibility effects (and all the unpleasant implications of flight in the transonic regime), aero-elastic stability, rotor/body aerodynamic interactions, reverse flow etc. The list is endless. My interest is in actively controlling flow using simple and versatile techniques such as implementing plasma flow actuators. In Spring 2014, as a sophomore at Georgia Tech, I interned at the Laboratory for Hypersonics and Shockwave Research at the Indian Institute of Science (Bengaluru) where I was exposed to plasma actuators. By the end of the internship, I knew I had to make this revolutionary flow control technology an industrial reality. Today, we are using this technology at the Experimental Aerodynamics and Concepts Group at Georgia Tech to control flow on swept wings at high angles of attack (a flow condition similar to the flow field under the sharp edge of a helicopter rotor blade in reverse flow at high flight speeds and advance ratios.)"

What impact has receiving the VFF scholarship had for you?

"The VFF Scholarship is the most prestigious scholarship that can be awarded to a student researcher in the field of vertical flight and rotorcraft technology. The Hans and Gill Weichsel scholarship was a huge honor to receive and I thank everyone involved in the process of formulating this award and choosing me as its recipient. The scholarship was extremely helpful in defraying the cost of tuition for the fall semester. This was a much needed relief given my current financial situation. I also used part of my scholarship to buy $400 worth of parts for my model airplanes. I believe this is a very fitting expense, considering Mr. Hans Weichsel was a model airplane enthusiast himself."

What are some of your current projects or research interests?

"Currently, I am an undergraduate Research Assistant with the Experimental Aerodynamics and Concepts Group under the mentorship of Professor Narayanan Komerath. The lab, based at the John J. Harper Wind Tunnel at the Georgia Institute of Technology, conducts significant research in helicopter aerodynamics. When I joined the Experimental Aerodynamics and Concepts Group, Dr. Komerath assigned me a project on investigating the use of plasma actuators for deicing on rotorblades. At the time, plasma actuators had never been studied or developed at the laboratory before. Over the last eight months, under Dr. Komerath’s mentorship, I developed an IEEE-compliant high voltage facility for plasma actuator development. Currently, I am designing plasma actuators for control of centrifugal instabilities on a swept wing at high angle of attack. Velocimetry and modelling experiments for the developed plasma actuator array configurations have been completed and experiments are currently underway to implement the actuators on a cropped delta wing. Apart from active flow control, I am also interested in fundamental aerodynamics, thermo-acoustics and multi-phase flows."

Tell us about your future plans.

"I completed my Bachelor’s degree in May of 2016 and continue on with my Masters degree in Aerospace Engineering as part of the B.S./M.S. program. In summer 2016, I was a visiting scholar at the High Speed Fluids Imaging Laboratory at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). At KAUST, I will be working on the dynamics of drops and bubbles in multiphase flows under the guidance of Dr. Thoroddsen."

What do Vaibhav's mentors have to say?

"Vaibhav was in one of my classes on aerodynamics. Evidently he must like hard work and challenging problems, because he walked into my office in the Fall asking to join my research team. He wanted to work on plasma actuators, inspired by his experience at the IISc. I asked him to look doing something to the boundary layer on a rotor blade to deflect ice particles and make it harder for them to stick to the surface – actual application to a rotor blade was far enough away for me to have no fear. To explore the concept “we” had to know something about electromagnetics, so Vaibhav was asked to become competent at using COMSOL. He did that in short order. The idea of controlling vortex flows came later, and seemed easier than the icing problem. We are now 3 peer-reviewed papers into this process. It is quite an eye-opener to see what a modern aerospace engineering student can do, given Vaibhav’s level of motivation and determination. In the plasma actuator project, I am strictly a learner. Vaibhav is the teacher, and an excellent one."

Prof. Narayanan Komerath
Georgia Institute of Technology

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