July 2011 Momentum Member Spotlight
AIAA Congratulates Dr. Martin Vincent Lowson
By: Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications
AIAA has selected Dr. Martin Vincent Lowson for its Member Spotlight for July, 2011. Dr. Lowson is an AIAA Fellow, Senior Fellow at the University of Bristol and the President of ULTra PRT , Bristol, U.K. He received the AIAA Aeroacoustics Award in June, and he previously has won awards from the Royal Aeronautical Society, The British Wind Energy Association, NESTA (UK), The Worshipful Company of Carmen, and others.
He says “I have always enjoyed being an engineer. After all, as Von Karman said, scientists discover the world that exists; engineers create a world that never was." Lowson has been a member of AIAA for forty-seven years, and has worked on civil aircraft, rockets, jet engines, and helicopters, and more recently on sustainable urban transport systems. Lowson’s areas of special expertise are aeroacoustics and aerodynamics. Among Lowson’s many contributions to the field of aeroacoustics are his 1965 paper “The Sound Field for Singularities in Motion,” in which the basic theory for accelerated sources was derived. His 1969 papers “A Theoretical Study of Helicopter Rotor Noise,” and “Theoretical Analysis of Compressor Noise,” gave the first fundamental understanding of helicopter noise and also provided a variety of new insights into compressor noise. He was Chief Engineer on the design of the new BERP rotor system used on the Westland Lynx Helicopter, which set the present world speed record for helicopters back in 1986. Lowson says “The work Dave Hawkings and I did on this started with the intention of minimizing the radiated noise field from the high Mach number advancing blade, but we realized that the geometric blade design we used to minimize the noise was simultaneously minimizing the transonic drag. This was certainly one of the crucial keys to winning the world speed record – and to a very effective rotor.”
His first job was as an apprentice at Vickers Armstrong’s Weybridge, where his first task on his first day in the factory was to assemble a beam for the Valiant bomb door rack. He says “starting at the bottom on the shop floor gave me unique insights into the aerospace business and engineering as a whole which have been really valuable over the years.” As a Post Graduate student he was part of the team from Southampton University, UK, which achieved the world’s first authenticated instance of human powered aircraft flight, when the team’s plane, the Southampton University Man Powered Aircraft (SUMPAC) took off at Lasham Airfield in November, 1961. Lowson says “driving the chase car with the whole team aboard as the aircraft took off for the first time was an incredible thrill.”
He went on to work on the Apollo moon landing program. He says, “although I was a very small part of this, simply being a part of reaching for the moon was an extraordinarily satisfying experience”. He then went back to the UK to work with Rolls Royce on engine noise. He next became Chief Scientist at Westland Helicopters, where he was responsible for a package on new technology demonstrators, which included the BERP Rotor. This won the Westland team the Queens Award for Industry. He left Westland to become Sir George White Professor at the University of Bristol, where he chaired the Aerospace Department for 14 years. His most recent work is on the ULTra Personal Rapid Transit System which is just coming into operation at Heathrow airport – another world first.
When asked if he felt that membership in professional societies, like AIAA, were valuable to engineers and scientists, Lowson replied “definitely!” He said that that professional societies form the bedrock of collaboration between all those who work in a technical field, and allow people to come together to share their latest work, and viewpoints in their respective technical fields. Lowson said that he had been to many AIAA meetings and always found them exceptionally valuable. He said “I always find the best part of an AIAA conference is the coffee breaks, when I can talk with others about their new ideas.”
When asked if he had any advice for young people, especially university students, who may be thinking about entering the aerospace profession, Lowson said “the most important thing about work is to enjoy it. If you do what you enjoy you will do it better. But the most satisfying part is succeeding in something which is really challenging”. Lowson also noted that to succeed in the industry you have to “have an understanding of what you can offer the final customer” Lowson said the key to success in engineering is “seeing the whole picture in order to better understand your part of the picture.” He urged engineers to really pay attention to the final goal of a project, so that they can make sure that the individual work they are doing on the project is “in concert with the whole.” A good background in math and in the mathematical based sciences is very helpful, as both fields play a large role in aerospace engineering and science.
Looking back over his career, Lowson said that there were many memorable and satisfying moments. His biggest regret was his failure to be there when Lynx broke the world speed record for helicopters. Dr. Lowson looked at the weather and decided that there no chance of a record attempt that day. So he stayed at home, just a few miles away, and missed the record breaking flight. This point reinforced his belief that life is about seizing opportunities where they exist, lest you miss out on something big.
AIAA congratulates Dr. Lowson for his many contributions to fields of aerospace science and engineering, and for his positive outlook on the role of AIAA in the professional and personal growth of aerospace professionals, as well as for his selection as the AIAA member spotlight for July, 2011.
(Pictured: Aeroacoustics Award recipient Martin Lowson (left) with Brian Testor (right) at the 17th AIAA/CEAS Aeroacoustics Conference in Portland, Oregon. Click image for larger version.)