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Naval Academy Introduces New Rotocraft Engineering Program

Posted on: January 16, 2014 09:00 EST by Judy Campbell

Naval Academy aerospace engineering majors now have the opportunity to specialize in rotorcraft engineering in the only formal undergraduate-level rotary-wing engineering program in the United States.

The new program is the largest expansion of the academy’s aerospace curriculum since the astronautics track was added in 1985.

The program is made possible through a Memorandum of Agreement between the Naval Academy and the Office of Naval Research, extending ONR support for the Naval Academy’s rotorcraft program and providing the basis for its expansion into a formal academic track.

“We’re very excited about this program,” said Capt. Ken Ham, chair of the academy’s aerospace engineering department. “Thanks to it we will better prepare future officers to fill leadership positions related to vertical lift aircraft, and will be able to expand our capabilities in performing relevant rotorcraft research.”

The program will include a rotorcraft performance course, a rotorcraft stability and control course and a year-long capstone design course that will involve designing, building, and testing rotary wing unmanned aerial vehicles. The first midshipmen in the rotorcraft track will graduate in May 2015.

“The new rotor track offers an exciting opportunity to study rotorcraft as the primary focus rather than as an addendum to a fixed wing aviation curriculum,” said Midshipman 1st Class Daniel Kuerbitz of Cleveland, Ohio, one of the first midshipmen in the program. “I hope to fly helicopters for either the Navy or Marine Corps and the program offers a strong understanding of rotorcraft operations which will no doubt benefit my career as a pilot. I am excited at the chance to be among the first to study in this program."

The program has its origins in an earlier Memorandum of Understanding between ONR and USNA signed in late 2008 which established an ONR vertical takeoff and landing and rotary wing chair in the Aerospace Engineering Department. This chair was established to assist in developing a rotorcraft curriculum to enhance the education and training of academy aerospace majors assigned to rotary-wing aircraft in the Navy and Marine Corps.

These efforts also established a successful ongoing program in ship airwake research led by academy Professor Murray Snyder.

This program, also sponsored by ONR, utilizes a dedicated 108 foot-long Naval Academy training vessel to explore the turbulent airwake behind ship superstructures – a topic of critical importance to helicopter pilots.

“This work goes beyond the academics,” says Snyder. “It represents serious applied research in direct support of a Navy-unique mission.”

Twenty-two midshipmen have participated in this program to date.

“We’ve had a long-standing and fruitful relationship with the USNA Aerospace Department and see this new as the logical next step,” said Capt. David Woodbury, acting director of ONR’s Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department. “This new agreement solidifies our commitment to rotary wing technology and building a base of future naval officers who are better equipped to support emerging Navy and Marine Corps needs in rotary wing science and technology.”   

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