Ohio State team joins renewed NASA Vertical Lift Research Centers of Excellence Program

Posted: November 8, 2021
Matt McCrink

In August, NASA announces that it would continue to support its university research program that explores future technology for helicopters and vertical lift vehicles. The Vertical Lift Research Centers of Excellence (VLRCOE) team led by Georgia Tech is comprised of other partner universities including the University of Michigan, Washington University at St. Louis, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the University of Texas at Arlington, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The primary focus of this group will be to help NASA as well as the U.S. Army and Navy advance their understanding of the unique physics surrounding vertical lift flight.

The Ohio State team was involved during the last program which spanned five years. The renewed funding from NASA will support the VLRCOE program for another five years. Many universities bid for positions on the three VLRCOE teams, but only a handful were selected for participation in the program. Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering research scientist Matt McCrink said that what contributed to Ohio State’s success was the team’s unique outlook.

“Our team is more focused on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and urban air mobility (UAM) concepts, rather than standard helicopters. That’s what makes us stand out,” McCrink said.

The Ohio State team previously worked on a VLRCOE project with partners at Georgia Tech and Indiana State. During that program, the team’s focus was on the effects of scaling rotorcrafts.

“As you make rotorcraft vehicles smaller the performance doesn’t scale one-to-one,” said McCrink.

To explore this, the team built small scale aircraft to measure what it would take to keep the scaled rotorcraft in the air. The questions that came out of their research, question like how much power does the vehicle need, how long can it stay in the air and how far can it go are questions they are continuing to answer.

The composition of partner teams takes advantage of the different capabilities across different universities. For example, Georgia Tech’s team is taking advantage of their wind tunnel facilities, while the Ohio State team is able to bring their experience in flight testing to the table.

With a variety of tools at the overall VLRCOE team’s disposal, Ohio State and partners are preparing to develop the next version of their scaled rotorcraft, this time using enhanced measurement capabilities

“Rather than flying the vehicle in an open field, we’ll be putting vehicles in urban environments more representative of those which might be encountered in package or passenger delivery missions,” McCrink said. “We’re looking at things like how does it interact with buildings, or landing pads? The results will be a lot more tangible.”

VLRCOE’s main purpose is to identify and solve the complex physics associated with vertical lift vehicles. The research done by the various teams is used to provide insight to NASA and their partners. McCrink says the goal for the team at the end of this five-year program is to have a new toolset that will be used to inform the design of the next generation of UAM vehicles.

Categories: AerospaceResearch