AIAA Member Spotlight – November 2017 Written 15 November 2017

AIAA Profiles AIAA Fellow Dr. Michael B. Bragg

By Lawrence Garrett, AIAA web editor

AIAA Fellow Dr. Michael B. Bragg

For November 2017, the Institute turns its spotlight on the Pacific Northwest, home of influential professor and nationally recognized expert in aerospace, Dr. Michael B. Bragg. 

An AIAA Fellow, and member since 1975, Bragg has held numerous AIAA volunteer leadership positions including VP of Publications. He was also a member of the AIAA Board of Directors, Institute Development Committee, and Executive Committee, and was involved with several technical committees. Bragg is a past recipient of both the AIAA Aerodynamics Award and Losey Atmospheric Sciences Award. 

Since July 2013, Bragg has been the Frank & Julie Jungers Dean of Engineering at the University of Washington. Nationally recognized for his research and teaching of aerodynamics and flight mechanics at the undergraduate and graduate levels, Bragg earned a reputation as a curriculum innovator at the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he went on to hold an impressive series of leadership roles during his career there, including Interim Dean, Executive Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Associate Dean for Research and Administrative Affairs, and Head of the Department of Aerospace Engineering. 

An international expert on the effect of ice accretion on aircraft aerodynamics and flight safety, Bragg has authored over 200 technical publications, and has guided more than 60 graduate students and five postdoctoral researchers toward their advanced degrees. 

Bragg earned a Ph.D. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from The Ohio State University in 1981, having previously earned a B.S. and M.S. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

Bragg said that he’s been interested in aviation from the time he was a young boy, largely on account of the fact that his father was a private pilot and his uncle an airline pilot. He explained, “Airplanes were always a topic of interest growing up.” 

In fact, Bragg had the opportunity to become qualified as a private pilot himself as a teenager. With his father’s strong support, and with an airplane and a small landing strip on his family’s farm, Bragg began taking lessons at a local airport at age 15. 

Only a few days after his 16th birthday, having just qualified for solo flights, Bragg began flying his family’s plane back to the airport to pick up his instructor to complete his training. Just one year later, Bragg passed his private pilot’s flight exam. 

Bragg noted that he was “a first generation college student growing up in rural Illinois,” and that the only college-level educated members of his community at the time were teachers and a family doctor. 

It was a high school teacher who knew Bragg excelled in math and science and liked airplanes, too, who recommended to Bragg that he pursue a career in aerospace engineering. Bragg explained, “I had never met an engineer before I enrolled in college.” 

Later, in graduate school, Bragg’s focus turned to aerodynamics and flight mechanics, and he credited “a very influential faculty mentor,” Professor Al Ormsbee, for having steered him in this direction. Bragg called Ormsbee an “outstanding airfoil designer,” who piqued his interest in the two disciplines. 

Bragg joined AIAA in 1975 as a member of the AIAA University of Illinois Student Branch. A junior at the time, Bragg credited a promotional deal he saw on campus that offered a “discount or deal … to get students to join.” Through his AIAA student membership, he got an opportunity to tour McDonnell Douglas, and participated in a college open house to benefit the local community. 

After earning his M.S. degree, and spending a little over a year performing research at NASA Langley in the 1970s, Bragg decided he wanted to continue his research in an academic environment, looking at it as “a career in research, teaching and service.” 

After earning his Ph.D. from The Ohio State University (OSU), Bragg joined the university’s faculty, where he taught from 1981 to 1989. Bragg noted that the best thing about a holding a university faculty position “is being able to drive your own research agenda (within the constraints of what you can get funded) and the interaction with bright and talented engineering students.” 

Following his teaching career, Bragg moved to university administration, where he saw more opportunity to “impact the institution, and the students and other faculty,” and to contribute “a little vision as well.”  

Bragg said the chance to represent his institution and the “amazing faculty and students … is a great honor and very rewarding.” He added that it’s also an honor and privilege to help develop and support new faculty, and to “watch them grow into national leaders in their research areas.” 

Touching upon the generous endowment from Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen in March 2017 to the University of Washington’s School of Computer Science & Engineering, Bragg said that the university is fortunate to have “an amazing computer science and engineering department … and a large and very supportive group of IT companies and individuals that support us.” 

The endowment, said Bragg, helps the school “have the flexibility and resources to build on its successes and compete at the highest level for faculty, students and new investments in research — aggressively pursuing new opportunities to accelerate discovery and real-world impact.” 

The school will serve as “a creative springboard for young innovators to boldly drive forward technologies that change the world for the better, inspired by the example set by Allen himself.” 

Touching upon his favorite career highlights, Bragg said, “there have been many,” going on to list his first grant, first journal article published, first of his students to earn a Ph.D., first of his students to become a faculty member, his first AIAA award, and becoming a member of a national committee. 

Bragg also mentioned his participation while an OSU faculty member as part of a team that examined the “rain trim” problem on the Rutan Voyager aircraft. Utilizing OSU’s wind tunnel, the team developed a solution using vortex generators that was successfully deployed onto the aircraft. Today, noted Bragg, “the Voyager hangs in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum with our vortex generators installed.”    

Surpassing even those highlights, though, was becoming an AIAA Fellow in 2004. “Being in the room with so many of my idols from the aerospace community was a thrill,” he reminisced, calling the moment “pretty unbelievable.” He added that he’s attended the annual AIAA Fellows Dinner every year since, calling it his “favorite event of the year.” 

Reflecting upon his AIAA membership, Bragg noted that like many other organizations, “the more involved and the more time you contribute, the more you benefit from the organization.” He remarked that earlier in his career, being involved as an officer in his local AIAA section “provided early professional leadership opportunities.” 

Later, through a combination of his active involvement in AIAA technical committees, once chairing the Aerospace Sciences meeting (now SciTech), and, authoring and presenting many conference papers and articles in AIAA journals, Bragg was able to “build a national network of colleagues, hone and improve [his] technical skills, and develop leadership skills,” calling his entire AIAA experience “a career development opportunity for me for the past 40 years plus.” 

Bragg said it’s an exciting time to be an aerospace engineer and that he would “definitely recommend” to all young, aspiring aerospace engineers that they become AIAA student members. Through his AIAA membership, he’s been afforded the chance to meet “engineers and professionals from all across the country, and internationally,” and has received leadership and technical opportunities that he “wouldn’t have had any other way.” 

He added that “AIAA can help students and young professionals build an exciting and rewarding career in aerospace.” 

In his free time, away from his university duties, Bragg said that he enjoys the great outdoors as often as possible, including downhill and cross-country skiing with family and friends in the winter, and hiking and biking in the summer. While he does a lot of traveling for work, he nonetheless also enjoys “traveling in the U.S. and internationally for pleasure.”

AIAA congratulates Dr. Michael Bragg for his selection as the AIAA Spotlight member for November 2017, for his many accomplishments in, and contributions to, the aerospace industry over the course of an extraordinary career. The Institute wishes him all the best as he continues to the lead the College of Engineering at the University of Washington for years to come.