The National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University continues to increase its yearly research funding, announcing a total of $49.4 million in fiscal year 2011. This is an increase of $5 million over 2010. The breakdown for 2011 includes funding from the following categories.
- Industry, 47 percent
- Federal agencies, 41 percent
- Aviation Research programs, 9 percent
- Wichita State University, 2 percent
- Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation, 1 percent
NIAR has experienced steady growth in the past four years, including increasing its total staff from 275 in 2008 to 323 in 2011.
Due in part to the research efforts of NIAR, Wichita State was recently listed second among all U.S. universities in total aeronautical research and development funding. And Wichita State’s large amount of industry funding was recently noted in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, which stated that few universities exceed five percent in industry funding.
However, the culmination of several large federal programs and a shift in the research and testing needs of the aviation industry has led to several organizational changes within the institute.
“In order to stay on the cutting edge of research trends, NIAR is strengthening the laboratories that are most highly utilized by industry and federal agencies,” said executive director Dr. John Tomblin.
Changes will affect the Composites & Advanced Materials Lab, Virtual Reality Center, Computational Mechanics Lab and Crash Dynamics Lab.
The Composites Lab has been NIAR’s largest lab for nearly fifteen years and has seen continual growth throughout that time. As composite materials continue to mature, trends are shifting to larger full-scale, element and component testing. As a result of this shift, the NIAR administrative staff has taken steps to increase the efficiency and productivity of the laboratory while maintaining highly functional capability in material qualification testing.
The laboratory, directed by Tomblin, has been divided into three testing groups and will be co-lead by the following staff. Dr. Waruna Seneviratne, research scientist and technical director, will lead federal research programs for the FAA and Department of Defense. Lamia Salah, senior research engineer and technical director, will oversee large aerospace industry programs and additional FAA programs. Royal Lovingfoss, associate director, will oversee the daily operation of the composites laboratory staff.
Under this reorganization, several teams within the lab have been combined to shift workloads and increase operational efficiency. This shift in staffing is estimated to result in the elimination of approximately in 15 positions in the Composites and Advanced Materials Laboratory. The laboratory currently employs 147 full-time and part-time staff.
This decrease in Composites Lab staff is met by an increase in staffing for the Full-Scale Structural Test Laboratory, which has hired three new full-time employees in the past year and increased its staff from 29 in 2009 to 37 in 2011. This laboratory is also estimated to increase in size by another 5 engineers by the second quarter of 2012.
“This shift in research work is a result of the progression of the composite materials industry as more and more companies seek to replace traditional airframe metallic materials with lighter, more maintainable composite materials,” said Tomblin.
As part of the restructure, the Virtual Reality Center has become part of the CAD/CAM Laboratory under the direction of Shawn Ehrstein. The laboratory was formerly managed by Fernando Toledo, who left the organization earlier this summer to take a position with an aviation company.
Ehrstein will assume responsibility in utilizing virtual reality for assistance in design review and computational analysis programs. The Virtual Reality Center will also be relocated to the National Center for Aviation Training, where the CAD/CAM Labs are located.
“The CAD/CAM Laboratory has always worked closely with the Virtual Reality Center to assist in the conversion of engineering data,” said Tomblin. “This is a natural transition as virtual reality technology becomes more commonplace within the industry.”
In a similar transition, the Computational Mechanics Lab has been merged with the Crash Dynamics Lab, and both labs will be led by Dr. Gerardo Olivares, research scientist and technical Director. Robert Huculak will continue as manager of the Crash Dynamics Laboratory.
“The accuracy and efficiency of computer simulation has led to an increase in the use of computational mechanics prior to physical testing,” said Olivares. “It allows engineers to build several cost-efficient computer models before building a physical mock-up, which can reduce the cost of certification.”
“These reorganization strategies are aimed at strengthening the institute and preparing it for future growth in the predicted economic climate,” said Tomblin.
The National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) at Wichita State University supports the aviation industry by providing research, development, testing and certification services to manufacturers, government agencies and education entities. NIAR laboratories include: Advanced Coatings, Advanced Joining & Processing, Aging Aircraft, CAD/CAM, Composites & Advanced Materials, Computational Mechanics, Crash Dynamics, Environmental Test, Full-Scale Structural Test, Mechanical Test, Metrology, Nondestructive Test, Research Machine Shop, Virtual Reality and the Walter H. Beech Wind Tunnel. NIAR operates on a nonprofit budget that has steadily increased to more than $45 million in fiscal year 2010. NIAR is the largest university aviation R&D institution in the U.S. With its location in Wichita, Kan., the “Air Capital of the World,” NIAR is able to integrate business, government and university entities in cooperative efforts to advance aviation technology. NIAR operates more than 250,000 square feet of laboratory and office space and employs 350. Clients include Boeing, Bombardier Learjet, Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft and Spirit AeroSystems.