Timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight, Arizona State University said Tuesday it will create a $5.1 million ASU Flight Research Center to develop aviation technologies.
Within a year, the center will deploy three aircraft to be used in research on turbulence, air-quality measurements and other experiments that require in-flight tests, said William Saric, the ASU aerospace engineering professor who will lead the center. It will be the nation's only fully dedicated flight research enterprise aligned with a major research university, he said. Currently, most such research is being conducted only at government labs, he said.
The new center will be part of ASU's Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering. Saric said the center's research on air flow and turbulence over aircraft wings can help to create aircraft with greater fuel efficiency and range. His previous research performed in an ASU wind tunnel has received support from NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense.
“We received a lot of encouragement to expand our capabilities to flight testing,” Saric said. “This will really build on many of the projects we are working on.”
Professor Israel Wygnanski, who has performed his own research on air flow and stall prevention at the University of Arizona, will also conduct experiments using the research center's aircraft. The planes will also be used to monitor air quality in the Valley for ASU's Environmental Fluid Dynamics Group, which has previously used only ground-based sensors to measure air properties in the region.
ASU President Michael Crow said other researchers will be able to use the center's aircraft and expertise.
“The center's open design will enable researchers from other disciplines to collaborate on research projects that would benefit from access to the center's aircraft,” he said. Graduate and undergraduate students will participate in the program, but no new jobs will be created, Saric said.
The center will be located at Williams Gateway Airport next to the ASU East campus in southeast Mesa, the university said.
Plans call for the center to share a new building at Williams Gateway with ASU's Aeronautical Engineering Program, which provides student pilot training. The building will include hangar space, classrooms and labs. It is expected to be finished late next year, when the research center will be fully operational, Saric said.
Part of the cost of the program will be paid out of research grants and contracts the center hopes to win, he said. Phoenix-based Mesa Air Group, an operator of commuter airlines, will provide pilots and maintenance for the research fleet. And the U.S. Air Force has tentatively agreed to provide pilots from Edwards Air Force Base in California for test flights.
The three aircraft to be operated by the center will all have features that are needed for the research. One is a former military Cessna 02 Skymaster, which has special mounts to test experimental wing designs. The Stemme S-10 is a fiberglass glider with a retractable propeller, which allows to be flown in powered and glider modes. The third plane, a Velocity VT15, has a pusher propeller in the rear.
Saric said he hopes to begin preliminary test flying as soon as February using the Cessna.