Connor Beierle '14 Tests His Wings with a NASA Internship
The decision to take the fall semester off for an internship was a tough one for mechanical engineering major Connor Beierle. His coursework would be interrupted in his junior year. He might even graduate a semester late.
On the other hand, this internship was pretty special: he’d work in the flight vehicle research and technology division, aeromechanics branch, of NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in California. And his mentor would be the branch chief.
"At the end of the day, every student is going to graduate with a degree," says Connor, who competed with applicants nationwide for the oppportunity, "but what makes me unique are the experiences I’ve had outside the classroom."
Connor, who has always wanted to be an astronaut and describes himself as a "total space geek," conducted tilt rotor research in a subsonic wind tunnel. A tilt rotor is a combination of a fixed and rotary aircraft that is capable of vertical takeoff and landing. After takeoff, the aircraft can be tilted, and a rear propeller provides thrust to move it forward. Because it needs only a small area to land in, runway space is not needed; the aircraft can touch down next to the terminal. Such aircraft are already in use by the military, with civilian use down the road.
"I used a seven-by-ten-foot wind tunnel to test a one-twentieth scale model of a large civil tilt rotor," Connor explains. "We placed the model on struts connected to delicate scale heads with various configurations of airfoils and fuselages that NASA wanted to try out. The airin the wind tunnel traveled at about 200 knots. We measured lift, drag, roll, pitch and yaw to determine how aerodynamically efficient the aircraft was. My job was to process an enormous amount of data, which was very exciting."
The research will support scientists’ hope that such aircraft will be aerodynamically and economically efficient in the commercial market.
"My mentor, Dr. Bill Warmbrodt, is a fantastic human being'” says Connor, who is also a Presidential Scholar at Stony Brook. "Having the branch chief for my mentor was very exciting. I was fortunate.'
Connor lived in a decommissioned military barrack, surrounded by lots of helicopter and fighter pilots. 'I had an opportunity to fly in an autogyro, which is a cross between a helicopter and an airplane. I went up with a pilot, and he put the controls in my hands. That was pretty neat."
"This internship was invaluable to me. It opened doors that I wouldn’t have even seen before doing it. It’s very exciting to see that the work I contributed to has real-world ramifications."
This summer, Connor has secured an internship in spacecraft power system modeling and simulation at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio. He plans to pursue graduate study in electric propulsion for spacecraft applications.
By Toby Speed; photo by NASA