Jul 29, 2015
NASA hosted a behind-the-scenes tour of the Vehicle Integrated Propulsion Research (VIPR) project at the agency’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California on Edwards Air Force Base. Media was invited to take a tour and attend a briefing to hear about the current status and objectives of the VIPR project. On panel were Paul Krasa, VIPR Project Manager, John Lekki, VIPR Principal Investigator; Jack Hoying from the U.S. Air Force & Volcanic Ash Environment Principal Investigator and also Cheng Moua, Armstrong VIPR Project Manager. QGITS had a chance to talk with some of the panelist after their discussion before taking a tour of the NASA Engine Shop and VIPR testing setup.
Here is what some of the panelist from the NASA VIPR team had to say about the project:
QGITS: What were some of the highlights discussed today.
John Lekki: What we were talking about here was an upcoming test that we are having, we are going to be introducing volcanic ash into an aircraft engine. The reason that we are studying volcanic ash is because it’s not really well understood what low concentration volcanic ash will do to an aircraft engine. We definitely know if there is a high concentration that you do not want to fly in it at all, it’s an issue. At low concentrations, there’s been a lot of difficulty in determining where the threshold should be, its all because we don’t have some control tests to do this at low concentration volcanic ash. So what we are going to be doing is introducing volcanic ash into an aircraft engine, it’s a military engine but it’s very similar to the engines that are used in civilian aircraft. We are going to be studying that and we have a number of measurement diagnostic and prognostic technologies on the aircraft engine. While the engine is being degraded by the volcanic ash we will try very closely to monitor what’s go on with the engine. So really what we are talking about is that we have a very interesting task, we are getting ready to do that. We know that it will help folks in making decisions if there is a volcanic eruption. How to utilize air space, when to close it, when to have it open and generally where you want to fly and not fly.
QGITS: Tell us about your role with the VIPR Project and what inspired you to work at NASA?
Cheng Moua: I’m one of the VIPR Project Managers at NASA Armstrong, we are responsible for the planning and conduct of the task. So a lot of the researchers bring their equipment out here and we are responsible for integration, planning and working with the airforce side to use their C-17 airplane. Our role at Armstrong is to plan the task, work out the logistics and make sure that whatever testing the researchers want done will be done to their specifications. We conduct tests here and using sensors to incorporate all of that into the engine airplane. So we work through all the planning and safety related issues to ensure it’s a safe test and successful test. And what has inspired me is going back to the old days the moon just being part of an organization of that caliber is always inspiring.
QGITS: How do you feel about the VIPR project and how it’s helping the industry?
Jack Hoying: This project is great, it sounds maybe not so much because we are dealing with ash but the entire project from start to finish has been so interesting, learning how different it is and how to feed the simplest machine to feed it into an engine became extremely complicated. Every single thing that we did was a mini project in it of itself. The fact that we are going to be able help the industry, to help the military understand things..up until now this knowledge has been lacking. The policy guidance that exists in Europe and in the United States is just not where it needs to be. So the fact that we can now in a very careful control way put small amounts of ash into an engine for a long period of time for hours and hours. That’s the missing piece of information that we have, so its kind of exciting on the backend too because now we can help policy. We are not writing the policy, we are the researchers that give the data and that help the policy writers be able to write the new standards..’Can you fly close to the ash?’..’How long can you fly in the ash?’ VIPR is a great project.
From there we took a tour of the NASA Engine shop and the test setup which involves ground testing of a C-17 cargo transport plane.
At the engine shop we were able to get up close with the engines used in the F18 and F15 to get a better understanding and visual of how the ash effects the airplane engines. I spoke with some of the technicians who work at the engine shop and Kevin Rohrer, Spokesperson for NASA Armstrong.
QGITS: What are some key take a ways from today’s tour?
Kevin Rohrer: There is two really key things we are doing with VIPR and the research that we are doing. The first is engine health monitoring of a jet aircraft knowing real time what an engine is doing. Also developing the multiple sensors that are put on jet engines moving in very harsh environments in extreme temperatures of hot and cold coming together. So the question is can you develop sensors to give you feedback and data real time? Second part is what happens when you actually ingest volcanic ash into a jet engine? We know from history there’s been several aircrafts that have experienced going through plumes of volcanic ash at various levels. What we don’t really know with any degree of confidence is how much ash causes what type of damage? We don’t know the why? We know that it could clog up engines, initially as the ash is going through an engine. It’s corrosive and could scrape even thought it’s a fine powder, it can degrade first parts of the fans on the engines. Once you go into the combustion chamber of the jet engine you have extreme heat of 1200 degrees and that heat would take the dust like volcanic ash and basically melt it and turns into a glass type of substance. So when it goes over some of the fans on the back part of the engine it could actually stick to it and that becomes a problem when you have to much accumulation you lose efficiency and you could possibly lose an engine.
Kevin Rohrer: So what you will see on the animation video is the fan blades they are in front of the combustion chamber that’s where you will have the corrosion affect with the volcanic ash flowing over that we would expect it to etch and degrade those fan blades.
Check out the animation video Kevin mentioned and also VIPR time laspe video that was shown from the VIPR behind-the-scenes tour and briefing at NASA Armstrong:
More info provided by NASA Armstrong: NASA has partnered with the Air Force Research Laboratory, Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing Research & Technology, Pratt and Whitney, General Electric Aviation and Rolls-Royce Liberty Works on the VIPR project. Researchers from four NASA centers are involved in various aspects of research and testing – Armstrong, Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.
To learn more about the VIPR project:
NASA’s aeronautics research: