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Momentum Member Spotlight - October 2016

Oct 17, 2016, 11:40 AM
Title : Momentum Member Spotlight - October 2016
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Momentum Member Spotlight – October 2016

AIAA Profiles Dr. Brian Argrow – AIAA Fellow

By Lawrence Garrett, AIAA web editor
14 October 2016


DrBrianArgrowWith the Institute paying close attention in recent times to the many aspects of developing UAS and UAV technology, it is only fitting that it has selected an inspiring and innovative individual for its October 2016 member spotlight. Dr. Brian Argrow, a leader in the design and integration of small Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System (NAS), is a lifetime member of the Institute, having joined in 1985. He currently serves as professor of Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado (CU).

Recognized as one of the most innovative thinkers in the rapidly advancing UAS/UAV community, Argrow previously served as the director of Research and Engineering for the Center for Unmanned Vehicles at CU from 2004–2012, and is the recipient of numerous honors and awards over his illustrious teaching career.

Named an AIAA Fellow in 2016, Dr. Argrow received the UCB Gold Best Teach Award in 2007, the Marinus Smith Award in 2003, the President’s Teach Scholar in 2000, the BFA Award for Excellence in Teaching for 1996–1997, the Charles A. Hutchinson Memorial Teaching Award in 1996, and the Engineering Teaching Excellence Award in 1996, among other awards.

When asked what influenced him early in his life to pursue an aerospace engineering career, Argrow said that in addition to his innate “love for astronomy,” the trajectory of his career was influenced during the 1960s and early 1970s by NASA’s space and X-plane programs. However, he also touched upon the fact that as an African American being raised in Stroud, Oklahoma, his parents and grandparents “did not have the [same] opportunities” to pursue an advanced education that he has enjoyed, while noting that his grandmother nonetheless graduated from Langston University and spent 40 years as an elementary school teacher.

Argrow credits his parents and grandparents for nurturing his passion for STEM, noting that his parents’ gift of a set of World Book Encyclopedia with a Cyclo-Teacher “influenced my learning and imagination.” He also credited his local librarian, “who was always so happy to see me,” for helping foster his love for aerospace, mentioning that he was usually “the only kid in the library after school.”

Argrow went on to earn a B.S., with distinction, in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Oklahoma in 1983, an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Oklahoma (OU) in 1986, and a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering in 1989, also from OU.

Argrow first joined AIAA as an undergraduate student while attending OU, and credited the fact that his “professors were socially engaged with us.” He said that his professors encouraged their students to become involved with the university’s “small AIAA student chapter,” at the time, which now numbers approximately 50 students. He called the experience a “tremendous” one that allowed his fellow students and him to get to know their professors better, saying that he has “very fond memories of those times.”

In 2004, Argrow became the founding director of the Research and Engineering Center for Unmanned Vehicles (RECUV) at CU. Asked what influenced him to begin focusing on UAV technology back in 2004, Argrow explained that, after having previously focused on high-speed aerodynamics, specifically nozzles, and then later dense-gas dynamics, during his graduate research, he later pivoted to a focus on UAS “in part because of the influence of one of my career mentors, Mike Francis, who had returned to DARPA to run the J-UCAS (Joint Unmanned Combat Air System) program, and also to improve the balance of aeronautics research to space research” in the university’s aerospace engineering department.

Argrow added that his “passion” to work with meteorologists “to create UAS to fly into supercell thunderstorms to support tornado research” also influenced his transition to a focus on UAS/UAVs. He explained that he was “inspired by the TornadoCHaser project at the University of Oklahoma” that was nearing its conclusion as he completed his Ph.D. Members of the project, funded in part by National Geographic, “under the leadership of Profs. Karl Bergey and John Fagan,” designed and built a small radio-controlled unmanned aircraft, but it was never deployed into a storm. Along with collaborators from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, CU’s UAS team “accomplished the first-ever supercell intercepts with a UAS in 2010,” said Argrow.

Describing the ongoing initiative, Argrow said that beginning in 2010, his team’s initial goal for their first supercell intercept “was to demonstrate the safe operation of a small UAS in the national airspace system to collect thermodynamic data in supercells to study ‘tornadogenesis,’ or the ‘birth’ of a tornado, during the 2nd Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX2).” Argrow added that in addition to collaborating with meteorologists to “better understand the mechanisms that trigger tornado formation,” much of his department’s research data will be provided to forecasters, including to the National Weather Service, “to increase tornado warning times and to decrease the false warning rates.”

Explaining how there appears to be some combination of thermodynamic conditions in the “rear-flank downdraft” that might signal the birth of a tornado, conditions that Argrow said are not able to be determined remotely “by even the most advanced radar,” he noted that his team has designed UAS “to penetrate this area of the supercell for in-situ measurements that provide critical data to our meteorologist colleagues.”

Argrow also explained how the technology is deployed and how the team is able to simultaneously meet FAA requirements. He said they “keep [their] eyes on the aircraft from the ground by commanding the UAS to track and position itself relative to [their] ground vehicle that [they] drive toward the storm.”

When asked how this idea – of deploying UAVs as an advanced tornado warning system – was formed, Argrow said that it “started with a couple of professors at the University of Oklahoma – the home of the ‘original’ Stormchasers made famous in the movie ‘Twister.’”

As for how far away we still are from full implementation and realization of this developing technology, Argrow explained that it’s not far. He said that his CU UAS team will be deploying to northern Oklahoma in late October 2016, where it will team with OU, as well as the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL), on the evaluation of the “pre-storm Environment Leading to initiation of Convection (EPIC) project.”

This late October deployment is for the purpose of verifying a “concept of operations where we will fly our TTwistor UAS between mesonet towers (10-m meteorological towers scattered throughout Oklahoma), while OU simultaneously flies instrumented multicopters on vertical profiles to collect data up to 2500-ft directly above mesonet towers.”

He said that a full deployment will occur in the spring of 2017, at which point the collected data will be delivered to the National Weather Service (NWS) “in advance of the formation of supercell thunderstorms with the goal to determine if these data [sets] will actually improve forecasting skill.” He added that his expectation is that these types of UAS deployments will become “routine in the future,” and will help increase the “the lead time and accuracy of tornado warnings issued by the NWS.”

Asked to briefly share his vision of the world 10 years from now in regard to the growth and integration of UAS into global society, Argrow explained that “UAS enhance our mobility in space and time,” calling them “platforms that enable other technologies and services,” such as cameras, radios, and scientific instruments, among others, that are capable of being “positioned at the right place, at the right time, and with increased persistence and increasingly lower risk.”

Addressing some of the concerns that UAS could possibly replace manned aircraft, Argrow pointed out that “there are many opportunities for UAS to be teamed with manned aircraft for synergies that make the combined system greater than the sum of the capabilities of the individual aircraft.” Rapidly developing technologies, such as those used for increasingly autonomous UAS operations in the NAS, will ensure a much safer system overall. Forecasting what UAS technologies are likely to have the most immediate impact on—and benefit to—society, Argrow cited emergency and first responder, national security, climate and weather observation and forecasting systems, and commercial cargo and package delivery systems.

Listing some of the hurdles still needing to be cleared, Argrow said that the primary challenge existing today is traffic management of small UAS “operating at low altitudes, and the ‘seamless’ integration of larger UAS into airspace shared with manned aircraft, particularly in the vicinity of airports.” He explained that the only way to meet these challenges is through the development of “increasingly trusted autonomy, where UAS can be somehow certified for specific capabilities to reliably operate among manned and other unmanned aircraft.”

When asked to share how his longtime membership in AIAA has helped him throughout his professional career, Argrow reiterated that his early involvement through the AIAA student chapter at OU “provided a great environment,” and that it helped him establish his identity as an aerospace engineer, as well as “solidify[ing]” his career choice in aerospace engineering.

He added that his AIAA membership helped him navigate through his “entire undergrad through Ph.D. educational and research experience,” and that when he presented his first research papers at an AIAA conference, it “opened the door to the tremendous opportunities to network and build professional friendships and formal collaborations.” Upon his realization that his career was so “intertwined with AIAA,” his decision to become a lifetime member “was just as natural as my original decision to join AIAA as an undergraduate some 30+ years ago.”

Asked what advice he might offer to the younger generation who may be thinking of pursuing an aerospace engineering career, Argrow first noted that aerospace engineering is his “passion,” and that he was fortunate to have discovered this early on in his life and to have had influential people around him to help encourage and foster that passion.

Noting that his passion is as strong now as it was as “an 8-year-old kid in front of a black and white TV,” as he watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, Argrow explained that with the privilege of an advanced education and the understanding of the “math, physics, and engineering it took to put humans on the moon and return them safely to Earth,” he can now “fully appreciate the magnitude of the effort it took.”

Furthermore, he explained that his UAS research allows him to channel his passion “into an emerging technology that is changing the trajectory of history,” adding that while it may not do so as profoundly as the moon landing, “maybe in 30 years, some kid graduating high school in 2017 will look back on an aerospace career inspired by the emergence of drones and how they changed the world, in the same way that I was inspired by humans walking on the moon.”

AIAA is proud to have made Dr. Brian Argrow its October 2016 member spotlight, congratulates him on his 2016 selection as an AIAA Fellow, and wishes him all the best as he continues to play a key role in the development and implementation of this transformational technology.

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