Federal Dollars Aid Aerospace Engineering Lab

Federal Dollars Aid Aerospace Engineering Lab
Dr. Ali Ahmadi and aerospace engineering students look over a wind tunnel model of a F-22 Raptor at the supersonic wind tunnel lab.
Ahmadi attaches a aircraft model in the supersonic wind tunnel.
Congresswoman Grace Napolitano talks with aerospace students in January.

Congresswoman Grace F. Napolitano (D-38) recently secured $1 million in federal funding for the university's aerospace engineering laboratory.

This funding helps purchase and install a three-dimensional Laser Doppler Velocimeter (LDV) system and aerospace computer simulation systems. The equipment will be used for research in aerodynamics and fluid dynamics in the new subsonic and supersonic wind tunnels in the aerospace engineering department.

“This is not just ordinary air blowing,” says Ali Ahmadi, chair of the aerospace engineering department. “This is a clean, very smooth, very uniform air flow.”

A growing number of students in Cal Poly Pomona's aerospace engineering programs receive critical training from these resources, enabling local firms to continue hiring highly skilled graduates.

Napolitano has already secured $2 million for this project over the past two years, contributing to the $4.5 million needed to finish upgrades to the laboratory.

This recent funding was included in the 2007 Department of Defense Appropriations Bills.

The College of Engineering's partnership with the U.S. Air Force and the congresswoman's ability to secure federal dollars has enabled the acquisition and installation of the two new research-grade wind tunnels.  

The supersonic wind tunnel simulates flying conditions up to four times the speed of sound. The second structure is a subsonic wind tunnel, which maxes out at 200 miles per hour and simulates wind speeds during aircraft take off and landing and low-speed flight.

The new tunnels replace two older versions in need of repair, one of which was installed 42 years ago and nowhere near the caliber of the new counterparts. The new subsonic tunnel is under construction and will be online in spring 2007, and the supersonic equipment will be operational near the end of 2007.

The actual test section for the tunnels is quite small: the larger test section is in the subsonic tunnel, and it is 40 inches wide, 28 inches tall and about 78 inches long. The supersonic test space is just 8-inches tall and wide, and 24 inches long. However, these tiny test sections need a great deal of real estate to create wind at high speeds. These are massive machines with the larger subsonic tunnels footprint measuring 54 feet long and 23 feet wide.

The new tunnels are part of a 2004 Education Partnership Agreement between the university and the Air Force. The equipment will be on long-term loan to Cal Poly Pomona and will be utilized by students, companies in the aerospace industry and other universities, as well as the Air Force itself. They are also part of an outreach program for K-12 students with on-campus tours to promote interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“In essence, this is a loan from the U.S. Air Force to us for a number of years, and then eventually ownership may revert to the campus,” says Edward Hohmann, dean of the College of Engineering.

This type of education is important to both the local and national economies, according to Hohmann.

“One of the reasons the Air Force is helping us is that there just aren't that many people being trained in the United States who are familiar with the details in designing aircraft, including testing them in wind tunnels,” Hohmann says. “A number of countries, especially India and China, are producing a lot of engineers, and the United States has been lagging in that area. So, we are pleased that our enrollment has drastically increased over the last several years in the College of Engineering with nearly 4,300 students currently.”

The aerospace engineering program has also seen rapid growth over the last decade, and about 350 students are currently participating in the program. Ahmadi attributes this to the considerable job market in Southern California.

“There are tens of thousands of high-paying aerospace jobs in California,” he says. “Southern California has always been one of the largest centers for aerospace work in the world. Even though we are not building many airplanes here now, there's still a lot of industry research and development taking place locally.”

Cal Poly Pomona andCal Poly San Luis Obispo are the only two pure aerospace programs in the Cal State University system, which means its students are in demand.

“One in 14 engineers in California is a graduate of our College of Engineering,” says Hohmann. “We have a large program, and we've built a very strong reputation for producing workforce-ready graduates during our 50-year history.”