AIAA Member Spotlight – January 2018 Written 16 January 2018

AIAA Profiles AIAA Senior Member Dr. Jay Gundlach

By Lawrence Garrett, AIAA Web Editor 

AIAA Senior Member Dr. Jay Gundlach

For the past two decades Dr. Jay Gundlach has been a pioneering force behind many advancements in Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technologies, which have been growing areas of focus for the Institute over the past several years. Author of three books on UAS design, technologies, and missions; and lead inventor on numerous UAS-related technology patents, Gundlach believes that UAS will soon dominate the aerospace industry, making him an ideal member to spotlight for January 2018.

Gundlach initially joined the Institute in May 1993 as a high school student. He was an AIAA student member in college as well, even serving as president of the Virginia Tech Student Branch his senior year while earning his B.S. in Aerospace Engineering. Gundlach also received an AIAA undergraduate scholarship in 1998, which he noted allowed him to keep his focus on academics and projects. Gundlach also earned both his Master’s and Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from Virginia Tech in 1999 and 2004, respectively.

While an undergrad, Gundlach participated in the AIAA Design/Build/Fly (DBF) Competition in 1997, sponsored by Cessna, Raytheon Missile Systems, and the AIAA Foundation, where the Virginia Tech team earned second place. Gundlach referred to his participation in DBF as “a wonderful early leadership experience,” in which he received the opportunity to manage a team “on a tight schedule for a UAS development project.” DBF also provided excellent career preparation, said Gundlach, calling it “not much different than other professional UAS development experiences that would follow.”

Currently an AIAA Senior Member, Gundlach has published a number of papers and articles in AIAA’s Journal of Aircraft, authored and presented numerous conference papers, and served as emcee for the inaugural DEMAND for UNMANNED ® symposium that took place at the 2016 AIAA AVIATION Forum. Gundlach also is an active member of AIAA’s Aircraft Design Technical Committee, a role that affords him the privilege of collaborating “with leading aircraft designers,” he said.

Gundlach’s interest in aerospace began at a very young age when he lived “at the edge of an abandoned World War II Japanese airfield on Guam.” By the age of 7, he knew that he “wanted to be an aerospace engineer.” In junior high school, Gundlach designed rubber band-powered and radio-controlled aircraft.

In high school, Gundlach formed an engineering club with the aim of building “the world’s largest radio-controlled glider.” The club eventually succeeded in building the glider, with a 48-foot wingspan, but successful test flights were not realized until after Gundlach’s graduation. Gundlach noted that while the club was ultimately successful in building the glider, it nonetheless came up short of capturing a world record.

Gundlach said that throughout his formative years, he was “a sponge for aerospace knowledge, seeking out mentors and different design experiences.” One of Gundlach’s primary mentors is none other than current AIAA President-Elect Dr. John Langford. Gundlach first learned about Langford as a teenager while reading The Fullness of Wings, a book by Gary Dorsey about the group of MIT students, including Langford, who, in 1988, realized their decade-long dream of creating a 68-pound pedal-driven plane and successfully flying it from Crete to mainland Greece, thus recreating Daedalus's 3,500+-year-old mythical 74-mile flight from Crete to the Greek island of Santorini.

In 1993, after learning via a Washington Post article that Langford had founded Aurora Flight Sciences, Gundlach wrote to Langford expressing interest in the company. Langford invited him to visit Aurora Flight Sciences. Shortly thereafter, Gundlach received a high school internship from Aurora on a project to construct a full-scale mock-up of the Theseus high-altitude UAS aircraft, spanning 140 feet.

Gundlach called these experiences “truly amazing,” and credited Langford with introducing him to the Institute. “John Langford first told me about AIAA, leading to my membership as a high school student,” he said.

Before becoming a UAS entrepreneur, Gundlach served in several leadership posts for a number of well-established aerospace firms. As vice president of Advanced Development for Insitu from 2005 to 2008, Gundlach helped grow a team of 23 engineers and program managers who successfully developed the Integrator (now the RQ-21A Blackjack), other advanced UAS concepts, and payloads for all Insitu product lines.

Gundlach called his team’s effort to take the Integrator from sketch to a full-scale prototype first flight in only 14 weeks “one of [the] most enjoyable” memories of his time at Insitu. As Gundlach summarized, “The project quickly transitioned from a simple prototype to a production-ready product that ultimately won the fiercely competitive STUAS program of record.”

Throughout his career, Gundlach is credited with designing and helping develop over 40 unique UAS that have achieved, at minimum, first flight. For example, as an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech in 1997, he designed a UAS with a 16-foot wingspan specifically for the Virginia Tech Forestry Department under a NASA project; the craft had “impressive performance capabilities” and an “ability to take off and land from rough logging roads.” The design, he noted, “served as inspiration” for one of his current projects, “despite being a 20-year old idea.”

While at Aurora Flight Sciences, Gundlach led a team on the Air Force Revolutionary Configurations for Energy Efficiency Study, which “explored advanced technologies to dramatically reduce fuel burn for future military transport aircraft.” He also led a team focusing on Aurora’s technology development and business capture effort for the DARPA VTOL X-Plane program, “which culminated in the core technology for distributed electric ducted propulsion systems.” Gundlach noted that some of the core propulsion concepts for the X-Plane “were first conceived” when he sketched them in his class notes as a junior in high school.

Over the course of his career, Gundlach has been credited with inventing a number of enabling technologies that have led to five U.S. patents. Of those five, he cited the “SideArm combined launch and recovery system” patent as the most memorable. SideArm is a “combined launch and recovery system that enables large fixed-wing UAS to operate from small Navy ships or austere land sites.” He called it “the core technology” that led to Aurora’s entry into DARPA’s Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN) program.

Gundlach is the author of three authoritative books on UAS design, technologies, and missions: Unmanned Aircraft Systems Innovation at the Naval Research LaboratoryDesigning Unmanned Aircraft Systems: A Comprehensive Approach, Second EditionandCivil and Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Systems. He noted that A Comprehensive Approach was the most challenging to complete as he was attempting to “cover all aspects of UAS design to a similar level of detail.” However, the research required to complete the book allowed him an opportunity to “take a deeper dive” into all UAS-related subject areas and “consolidate” his knowledge. Referencing some “sage advice” he once received as young man, Gundlach advised aspiring engineers to “learn the material as if you have to teach it,” which helps a lot if and when it comes to authoring books.

Gundlach called his book on UAS systems innovation at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) his most rewarding to complete. Explaining its genesis, he said that while interning at NRL as an undergraduate, he was “taken under the wing of an amazing aircraft design mentor, Rick Foch,” with whom Gundlach helped develop 17 different UAS during his four years at NRL. Gundlach credits Foch for “patiently” teaching him “the craft of aircraft design,” and for having invested “substantial time” in his education.

Gundlach explained that Foch ultimately became a close friend and that the two of them collaborated on a number of aircraft projects together, culminating in their work on the NRL book, in an effort “to document [Foch’s] unprecedented career upon learning that he had cancer.” Foch “wanted to share his experiences with the world, so that others could benefit from his knowledge about unmanned aircraft design.”

As noted earlier, Gundlach believes that UAS will soon dominate the aerospace industry, calling its future “now,” and predicting that “many future manned aircraft will have unmanned elements to them.” Some will be fully autonomous “person-carrying vehicles,” he said, while some will be optionally-piloted aircraft. He forecasts that at some point in the not-too-distant future, “a purely piloted aircraft will be an exception.” He also noted that as U.S. and international airspace regulations are solidified, “we will likely see a vast proliferation of commercial UAS opportunities.”

Today, Gundlach and his wife, Katharine, along with their partner Calder Hughes, a former mechanical design lead on the Insitu Integrator program, own and operate FlightHouse Engineering, LLC, which the trio cofounded in 2016. The company has served many customers including long endurance small electric UAS, space launch systems, cargo UAS, and human-carrying autonomous systems, according to Gundlach. Based in Portland, Oregon, FlightHouse now employs six engineers and anticipates “significant growth over the coming year,” with “many new UAS projects” in the pipeline.

For students who are considering pursuing a career in aerospace engineering, Gundlach said that his “best advice is to follow the airplanes rather than companies,” saying that it’s a rule he’s followed throughout his career, which has led to “amazing opportunities.” He also advised aspiring engineers to “follow the most interesting projects early” in their careers, where they are able to “gain experiences most rapidly.” And he suggested that students learn as much as they can as quickly as they can, and “pursue the projects with intensity.”

In his free time, Gundlach enjoys “hiking, mountain biking, reading about history, and spending time with family.” He noted that aside from those activities, most of his time is “consumed by aviation in many forms ranging from radio controlled aircraft, studying aviation history, and of course the AIAA book projects.”

The Institute salutes AIAA Senior Member Dr. Jay Gundlach, thanks him for the pivotal role he’s played in the development and evolution of UAS, and wishes him all the best as he continues to lead further advances in this revolutionary technology.