$1.5M to Expand Hypersonic Research Capability and Train Future Aerospace Engineers Secured via FAMU

fcaap polysonic wind tunnel

The polysonic wind tunnel at FCAAP and the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering in Tallahassee, Florida. The tunnel currently tests aerodynamics up to Mach 5 but will soon get additional capabilities due to a grant from the US government via Florida A&M University. (M Wallheiser/FAMU-FSU Engineering)

Florida A&M University (FAMU) and the Florida Center of Advanced Aero-Propulsion (FCAAP) have been awarded $1,200,000 by the Army Research Office (ARO). The award will expand the high-speed research capability at the facility and recruit more African American students to pursue careers in aerospace engineering. 

rajan kumar aerospace engineer
Rajan Kumar, professor of mechanical engineering and director, FCAAP at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering (M Wallheiser/FAMU-FSU Engineering)

“We want to train the next generation of engineers and scientists and expand research opportunities for under-represented minority students,” Rajan Kumar, a professor in mechanical engineering at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, said. “The U.S. Army has been very supportive of our mission as well as our many partner institutions.”

Kumar is the Director of the Florida Center for Advanced Aero-Propulsion (FCAAP) and is working on research that will help the U.S. Army advance its design tools for high-speed research and next-generation hypersonic platforms. He is researching smart projectile performance and maneuvers at high angles, at a range of speeds, including subsonic, transonic, and supersonic Mach numbers. 

Funding is distributed into two grants, one for basic research and the other to expand the capability of the polysonic wind tunnel (PSWT). Upgrades for the PSWT will allow the researchers to conduct research at realistic flight conditions. FAMU is adding $300,000 in matching funds to complement the planned upgrades and help train more minority students in aerospace engineering. 

“The polysonic wind tunnel is a unique facility, and no other institution has it,” Kumar said. “It is capable of operating from Mach 0.2 to 5.0, and we are always interested in expanding its capabilities to meet new research challenges.”

Polysonic Wind Tunnel

adrienne brown mechanical engineering graduate student hbcu famu
Adrienne Brown, graduate student in mechanical engineering at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. (M Wallheiser/FAMU-FSU Engineering)

The next-generation polysonic wind tunnel is impressive to see, but its powerful lungs remind you of the ‘60s ballad, Puff the Magic Dragon. You can hear the inextricably loud hiss that shakes the building when the air pressure from the wind tunnel is released. That’s the sound that Adrianne Brown likes when she is working at the facility.

“It’s fun to hear the loud noises of the polysonic wind tunnel,” Brown said. “Using compressed air, the flow speeds up to Mach 5 and, by sending a large amount of air through a narrow nozzle. It’s like when you put your finger on the end of a water hose to increase the pressure.”

Brown is a graduate researcher at FCAAP and is a doctoral student in mechanical engineering at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering and Florida A&M University. She is researching the trajectory of projectiles, like missiles, and is interested in improving accuracy in flight. 

“Whether a projectile fires from an aircraft or ground, we want to understand what is happening during flight,” Brown said. “An error can quickly turn the projectile off course because it is flying at supersonic speed.”

The FCAAP group studies aircraft dynamics at supersonic and hypersonic speeds—that you can’t see with the naked eye. The polysonic wind tunnel facility is used by the U.S. Department of Defense agencies like the Navy, Air Force, Army, NASA and several major corporations like Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman and Boeing.

Future Engineers

Brown is part of Kumar’s research team and wants to work in the engineering industry after graduation. The aerospace industry and high-speed testing facilities require technical personnel who can design and conduct experimental testing, and there is a nationwide demand for these personnel, according to Kumar.

“Our mission is to expand minority students in this area and a student like Adrianne is a great example of what students can do when given the opportunity, “Kumar said. “There is a strong demand for minority students to become part of the engineering workforce or aerospace engineering faculty.”



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