UTSI is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and there are banners throughout campus advertising that message. Since 1964, UTSI has provided support to the Arnold Engineering Development Center, a part of Arnold Air Force Base and the largest complex of flight simulation test facilities in the world.
Appropriately, we started our tour in the flight test engineering program, which boasts several astronauts as its graduates. Steve Brooks, associate professor (pictured at the left), and engineer Jonathan Kolwyck, who graduated from UTSI in 2012, talked to us about one of the flight simulators. They even let us try it out. The replica cockpit area has throttle and flight controls and faces three big screens that show a city landscape the simulated airplane is flying over. It was fun, and one of us (I won’t say who), “destroyed” the plane by flying too fast. The program’s simulators can be programmed to simulate any kind of aircraft with varying conditions such as ice on the tail. Commercial pilots are subject of tests to evaluate how they handle different and sudden conditions. Now that NASA’s space shuttle program has ended, some UTSI graduates in this area have gotten jobs at SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, private space flight companies.
The next stop was the Center for Laser Application, which is two buildings that house many labs related to multiple facets of engineering, physics and chemistry. Associate Professor Jackie Johnson and research assistant and doctoral student Lee Leonard (pictured below) talked about their work in medical application of materials such as glass. They showed us small squares of very thin glass that can be used to make an earlier diagnosis than images take by film, for instance in a dentist’s office, or even an MRI. The glass is half a millimeter in thickness. A startup company called GCaDD LLC, short for Glass Components and Device Development, was created around this technology.
Then, Joel Davenport, associate director of lab research, showed us the large vacuum chamber facility, which simulates deep space and is used to test things like sensors that would be used in space. Research for the Air Force, NASA and private companies is conducted in the large facility or smaller ones. The facility is one of the best in the country in terms of size and capability. UTSI also has water and wind tunnels and compressors for aerodynamic tests.
After an intense morning of test facilities and simulators and all kinds of engineering stuff that boggles the mind of English majors (at least this one), we had lunch in the campus cafeteria aptly called The View (pictured below). It overlooks a beautiful lake, and there is an outside patio right over the water. We sat outside with Moeller, Davenport and Ahmad Vakili, professor in MABE and director of technology transfer and economic development. They are all UTSI alumni, and as you might expect, they hope more people will learn about UTSI and its important and interesting research and education programs. They were drawn to UTSI for the high level of research conducted here, and let’s face it, the scenery is outstanding. Other pluses are the friendliness of the people, the collaborative nature, the small organization and structure and easy parking access. A fun group!