Cadets, professors submit patents for next-gen aircraft engines

  • Published
  • By Amber Baillie
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
An aeronautics professor and cadets may have designed the next generation jet engine.

Lt. Col. A.J. Rolling, director of the Academy's Aeronautics Laboratory, and 26 cadets from the aircraft propulsion capstone design course created four hybrid engine cycle designs to increase performance and fuel efficiency in military aircrafts. They submitted four patents on March 19 to USAFA Research to attract research dollars and further optimize the designs.

"To have cadets engage in that kind of an activity is exactly what you want to have them do so they feel like they're involved in what they'll be doing as engineers in the future," said Lt. Col. A.J. Rolling, director of the Academy's Aeronautics Laboratory and instructor of the course.

According to Dr. Steven H. Walker, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for Science, Technology and Engineering, the Air Force consumes 80 percent of all fuel bought by the Defense Department.

Rolling said that because of that, we must figure out ways to save on fuel.

"For a military mission, you want to be fuel-efficient when you loiter -- when you're just burning holes in the sky and not really doing anything -- so that you're able to dash out when you need to attack somebody," Rolling said.

There are two ways an engine can accelerate: Use a lot of air flow like a commercial airliner that's very fuel-efficient but slow to accelerate, or use fewer air molecules like a Pratt and Whitney F119 engine that uses a lot of fuel but is quick to accelerate.

Rolling said both are needed in a military mission.

"What I'm proposing is two different kinds of engines in one," Rolling said. "If you do that, you're going to save a ton of money on fuel."

The solutions fall under Rolling's design called "2True." The idea is to create a platform and engine that are able to do the military mission as efficiently as possible

"You're trying to be on design, at two different points-two true design points," Rolling said. "That's how I've proposed it to cadets."

Three of the solutions that Rolling invented use energy drawn from an ultra-low turbine to drive distributed systems. The fourth solution was a collaborative effort with Rolling, Dr. Bill Heiser and Dr. Chuck Wisniewski.

"We've got three Ph.D's collectively working on how to actually make the system work. It's been difficult," Rolling said.

Rolling said there is a 50-percent improvement on fuel consumption with the four designs.

"Right now, with the design that I helped with, we are calculating fuel savings of around 40 percent," said Cadet 1st Class Benjamin Piehl of Cadet Squadron 36. "This obviously is beneficial for the Air Force because it would greatly decrease the gas bill. Any of the four patent designs can be extrapolated into the commercial aviation industry as well."

Rolling said the project is far beyond what cadets in the class would normally be asked to do.

"Normally we would give them a full military mission and say, 'Go design a conventional engine,'" Rolling said. "It's complicated and hard, but then they would shelve it. This project allows them the chance to possibly see some of the systems that they've worked on fly in the future."

Cadets spent an entire semester on the project. They were divided into four teams and each assigned a technical solution. They prepared the thermodynamic analysis, material design, calculations for fuel savings and created 3-D models to show how the systems work.

"What I love most about this project is that it is challenging and it's not like you can open the back of your textbook and find the answer," said Cadet 1st Class Stephen Pineo of CS 38. "I'm not going to lie. There have been times when we've wanted to rip our hair out trying to understand something or get something to work, but in the end we always produce something great with promising results."

It took three months to prepare the patent package. Rolling said there are several steps left before the application becomes a patent, but that the first step is critical.

"There have been many late nights working on this project and many more to come," Pineo said. "I don't think I've ever spent so much time working on a project at the Academy, but I think it's very interesting and many great things can come out of it. It could be implemented in aircrafts in the future so I would say this has been time well spent so far."

Cadets were listed as contributors to the patents. They are all seniors and plan to enter into pilot training, the engineering field or graduate school.

"I like how we are doing something that nobody else has done," said Cadet 1st Class Rachel Mittelman of CS 40. "We aren't creating a product to be thrown away when the semester ends; we are creating something that will exist beyond our time at the Academy."

Rolling said once the Air Force Aeronautical Research Laboratory reviews the patents and sends them to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, full review and feedback can take between six months to a year.

Rolling said the design is conceptual and that the next step is for cadets to design the metal and work through what is needed to make everything work together.

"Putting a patent together was really difficult because it's the kind of thing that a lawyer normally does," said Cadet 1st Class Jeffre Wood of CS 06. "Being included in a patent is amazing, it's one of those amazing opportunities that you always think would be really cool but will never happen and now it looks like it will."