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American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

    Momentum Member Spotlight – July 2015

    AIAA Congratulates Russell Cummings

    by Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications

     

    Russell CummingsAfter turning east last month, for July, the spotlight swung west, falling on Colorado Springs, Colorado, and illuminating AIAA Associate Fellow Russell Cummings, a professor in the Department of Aeronautics at the United States Air Force Academy. Cummings also served as head of the Department from 2013 to 2014.

    Cummings’ career started at Hughes Aircraft in 1979, where he served as a member of the technical staff working in the company’s Missile Systems Group. While at Hughes, Cummings worked on various computational approaches to predict the aerodynamic performance of missiles, especially at high angles of attack and while traveling at high speeds. A lot of Cummings’ work helped form the basis for Hughes’ expanded use of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) applications for aerodynamic predication. In 1986, Cummings left Hughes to begin teaching at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Shortly after starting his professorship, he accepted a postdoctoral research fellowship at NASA Ames Research Center, where he was a member of the F-18 High-Angle-of-Attack Aerodynamics Team and the High Angle of Attack Research Vehicle Flight Test Team. The project created the very first full predictions of vortex breakdown, as well as groundbreaking approaches to computing vortical flows at high angles of attack. After the fellowship was complete, he returned to Cal Poly, where he continued the research begun at NASA Ames, working on numerical prediction of high-angle-of-attack aerodynamics. He also researched turbulence modeling, high-lift aerodynamics, vortex trapping, Gurney flaps, lift enhancing tabs, and pneumatic flow control. Cummings chaired the department from 1992 to 1995, becoming a Professor Emeritus in 2004.

    In 2001, Cummings came to the U.S. Air Force Academy as a “Distinguished Visiting Professor,” where he worked with Scott Morton and Jim Forsythe on the application of detached eddy-simulation to predicting massively separated flows. The research produced many breakthroughs on how to perform grid generation and flow computation for highly unsteady flows using hybrid turbulence models. Cummings also helped to establish the capability for hypersonic testing at the Academy, initiating a hypersonic research program.

    Due to his work in CFD, Cummings has been selected to co-chair numerous NATO Research Task Groups, most notably international task group AVT-113, “Understanding and Modeling Vortical Flows to Improve the Technology Readiness Level for Military Aircraft” and ATV-161 – “Assessment of Stability and Control Prediction Methods for NATO Air & Sea Vehicles” – where he worked with fellow AIAA International Cooperation Award winner Andreas Schütte, our August Spotlight profile.

    Cummings is a 1994 recipient of AIAA’s Faculty Advisor Award, a 2004 recipient of the AIAA Sustained Service Award, a 2015 recipient of the AIAA International Cooperation Award, and a 2015 recipient of the AIAA Aerodynamics Award. His other honors include a 2014 U.S. Air Force Exemplary Civilian Service Award, a 2012 NATO RTO Scientific Achievement Award, and the U.S. Air Force’s 2002 Science and Engineering Award.

    Like so many other Spotlight subjects, a relative kindled Cummings’ desire to enter the aerospace profession. Cummings explained that his uncle “was a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. On his way to the Vietnam War in the 1960s he stopped to visit our family. I was 12 years old. While he was visiting he bought me just about every model of every USAF airplane that was available and we sat around the kitchen table at night building the models. He told me about the aircraft and their uses, etc. I hung every one of those models from my bedroom ceiling and fell asleep each night thinking that someday I would either fly those planes or help to design their replacements. I have loved airplanes ever since!”

    After learning who had ignited Cummings’ passion for aerospace, I asked him to sift through his career memories to pick his most favorite. He replied, “Being a co-chair of several NATO Science & Technology Organization task groups has extended my working relationships from primarily U.S. engineers to aerospace professionals around the world. One of our task groups had a total of 46 members from a dozen countries and many government organizations, companies, and universities. Participating with those people over multiple years on challenging but satisfying projects has been the highlight of my career.”

    When it came to offering advice to college students seeking to enter the aerospace profession, Cummings counseled: “Be a good student, make sure you are taking appropriate math and science prerequisites, and get involved with various student projects within the aerospace program. Whether it is Design/Build/Fly, a student design project, a student research project, or working in a lab with undergrad and grad students, you will gain a great deal of experience and confidence in your abilities. Like I used to tell my Cal Poly students: I'm not smarter than you, I'm just older than you . . . you can do it too!”

    When I asked Cummings what advice he had for high school students who were thinking about studying aerospace in college, he paused and laughed, responding: “That is somewhat funny – I asked the same question of my high school math teacher when I was a freshman who was floundering in my studies. He told me to take as many math and science courses as possible while I was in high school, and that was certainly good advice.” Cummings continued: “I would now add to also get involved in one of the many pre-engineering programs or projects that are going on, whether it is the First LEGO League, Team America Rocketry Challenge, FIRST Robotics Competition, etc. Those types of activities really didn't exist when I was in high school and young people should take advantage of these wonderful activities.”

    Cummings then talked about what more seasoned members of the aerospace community could do to help younger ones, explaining: “When I was department head at Cal Poly we surveyed our students and asked why they had become aeronautical engineering majors. The vast majority of them (and almost all of the under-represented students) said it was because of a relative or neighbor or family friend who had shown interest in them and told them about aerospace. Get involved with a local 4H rocketry team or volunteer to speak to a science class at a high school. Many high schools have pre-engineering programs now and would love to take advantage of experienced engineers helping out with their projects.

    When asked about the value of AIAA to an aerospace engineer, Cumming’s response was enthusiastic: “If I had just done my professional work and never participated in AIAA during my career, I would probably know about 50 or 60 people in the aerospace industry – primarily the people I worked with. By being involved with AIAA – in technical activities, student programs, conferences, etc. – I now personally know hundreds, if not thousands, of people within my career field – and that is probably the biggest value of joining, and participating in, AIAA – getting to know the wonderful people who do so many exciting things in aerospace.”

    We closed our interview discussing Cummings’ feelings about recently winning the AIAA International Cooperation Award and how international cooperation is important to advancing aerospace. He replied, “Wow, that was quite an honor! Andreas Schütte and I have been working on NATO task groups together for over a decade, and to see some of those projects mature and become extremely successful has been a wonderful part of my career. Having all of that work recognized by AIAA was extremely gratifying and humbling. I really think the award is for all of the hard work performed by all of the members of our task groups over the years – their names are also on the award as far as I’m concerned.”

    AIAA congratulates Russell Cummings for being the July 2015 AIAA Member Spotlight, and for his legacy of work in CFD!