Ohio State’s aerospace research takes off, targets the future
It’s not every day that most people contemplate how to improve society through enhancing air transportation, but it’s an ever-present thought for James Gregory, departing director of The Ohio State University Aerospace Research Center.
“I am struck with gratitude that we get to work on projects that advance the state-of-the-art, deepen our understanding of physical phenomena and improve society through R&D,” comments Gregory, professor and international leader in aerospace research.
Over the past two and a half years as ARC’s director, Gregory has quietly guided the multi-laboratory center’s growth from $2.8M in research expenditures in 2017 to $8M in 2020. The center connects core strengths across the university, advancing knowledge and technology to address current and future air transportation challenges. ARC, which has over 20 faculty and 50+ graduate and undergraduate student researchers, also serves as a unique resource for industry, academia, government labs and other organizations to collaborate on complex research challenges.
“I would say it's our people that make ARC strong,” shared Gregory. “The collegiality, our cooperative approach to research, innovativeness, mentoring of graduate students and the vision to tackle the most challenging problems facing society. These are the things that make us strong and great at what we do.”
ARC launched from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in 2013 under the purview of Professor Mo Samimy. When Samimy returned to a traditional faculty role in 2017, Gregory assumed the directorship after serving as the Associate Director of Unmanned Aerial Systems since 2015. Now, the center has grown to encompass research projects from across the university.
“The growth that we've seen in the center has come from the exceptional talents and abilities of the faculty who are in ARC. It's not one individual person who's been doing it, it's a broad and widespread energy and enthusiasm and vision for the faculty and the students to enable this growth,” Gregory commented.
Strength in partnership
Located on the campus of the university’s executive airport, Don Scott Field, ARC’s unassuming brick building houses world-renowned research labs producing patents and solutions reaching nearly every facet of the aerospace and aviation industry. Here, laboratories outfitted with cutting-edge experimental facilities test components for some of industry’s biggest names and scholars work to solve air transportation challenges.
One such program aims to maximize the efficiency and safety of jet turbines through the Pratt & Whitney Center of Excellence in the Gas Turbine Laboratory. A series of projects being investigated by the Turbine Aerothermodynamics Laboratory addresses aircraft efficiency and safety while flying through very dusty skies. ARC is also a core member of the Federal Aviation Administration ASSURE Center of Excellence on Safe and Efficient Integration of Unmanned Aircraft Systems into the National Airspace System, a national consortium investigating the safe and efficient integration of drones into national airspace.
Although much of Gregory’s work has been done with an air towards subtlety, not all of his successes have been discreet. In 2017 he led a team of researchers to set the record for the world’s fastest drone, a technology demonstration that allowed the team to push limits while creating an inspirational project for younger students. He was also selected by The Great Courses and the Smithsonian Institution to produce a video series, The Science of Flight.
“The common theme at ARC is that we're doing impactful research, which helps shape society by developing policies at the federal level,” he described. In turn, “that leads the way for new technologies that are being integrated into aviation products or aircraft today.”
Gregory’s passion for research extends beyond the lab. He counts some of his most enjoyable achievements as mentoring students and new faculty. “We are an educational institution and we are training graduate students to be the next generation of researchers and scholars and R&D developers,” he said. “It's actually a multigenerational impact that we have, and that's what makes it rewarding and lasting beyond any specific technology developments that an individual faculty member may do on their own.”
This outlook fits well with Gregory’s next challenge. June 1 he took the pilot seat of the university’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. With over 80 faculty members and over 2000 graduate and undergraduate students, Gregory looks forward to providing good organizational structure, as well as vision and empowerment to the faculty.
“I'm excited about the prospect of serving the faculty of our large, complex department. I look forward to tackling academic programs, as well as the research,” said Gregory, who will still maintain his UAS laboratory space at ARC.
Gregory’s guiding principles form the base of his leadership approach.
“I think it's important to recognize that each person has unique and wonderful gifts and strengths and that we can all build up one another’s strengths and work together to do great things. It's just important to recognize that everybody has something to contribute. Everybody has incredible worth and significance as a person and we're doing our best, we're at our best when we pull together.”
Gregory joined the university after serving as a policy fellow at the National Academy of Engineering and completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He earned his Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Tech, and received master’s and doctorate degrees in aeronautics and astronautics from Purdue University. He is a licensed private pilot with instrument rating and holds a UAS 107 license.
by Holly Henley, Ohio State airport communications specialist