One might not think “aircraft” when picturing the U.S. Navy, but the military branch actually has thousands of aircraft currently in service – and now, supercomputing will help future naval aircraft operate faster, safer and more efficiently. Thanks to a $541,167 grant from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), researchers at Penn State will use the university’s Roar supercomputer to examine the effects of turbulence on aircraft in more unconventional situations.
Specifically, the research will focus on freestream turbulence. When an aircraft flies, “tip vortices” can form along the edges of its wings or engines. Normally, these tip vortices are predictable; however, in less normal situations (like taking flight over rough seas), they can become unpredictable and dangerous. Current naval aircraft designs hedge their bets with safer designs to account for these unknowns.
“As the Navy is trying to create more aggressive designs, they want to push the envelope to get every ounce of performance they can,” said David Williams, principal investigator for the research and an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State, in an interview with Penn State’s Erin Cassidy Hendrick. “As those engineers are trying to improve airplane wings, inlets or turbomachinery applications, we want them to have a clearer understanding of what the effects of freestream turbulence could be.”
The research project will consist of both a computational component and a physical component. The computational experiments will utilize Penn State’s Roar supercomputer, hosted by its Institute for Computational Data Sciences (ICDS). According to the ICDS, Roar contains “over 1000 servers with more than 23,000 processing cores, 6 petabytes of disk parallel file storage, 12 petabytes of tape archive storage, high-speed Ethernet and InfiniBand interconnects and a large software stack.”
“When a lot of the current helicopters and airplanes were designed in the 80s or 90s, the computational power was lower,” Williams said. “In the modern era, using Roar and some Department of Defense supercomputers, we can go after some problems in a way that just couldn’t be done before.”
Using Roar, the researchers will simulate the “entire range” of freestream turbulence flows, then validate the resulting models using a wind tunnel in Penn State’s Experimental and computational Convection Laboratory.
“In addition to enabling safer operation, we want the Navy to be able to push the envelope a lot further,” Stephen Lynch, who is also a principal investigator for the research and an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State. “If we find where the boundary exists on these conservative designs and show you can go up to this exact point, we can increase performance and maintain safety.”
To read the reporting from Penn State’s Erin Cassidy Hendrick, click here.