Enthusiasm for Flight Propels Researcher's Interest in X-43A
If it were not for Randy Voland's hard work ethic as a co-op student he may have never had a career at NASA Langley in Hampton, Va. He enjoyed his time at Langley as a co-op starting in 1981, yet he did not find his work with space structure applications and aircraft noise reduction interesting. Not wanting to continue the same work he did as a co-op, he searched for jobs outside of NASA.
Shortly after his graduation from North Carolina State University, he received a call from a Langley propulsion researcher who had heard of his hard work and effort during his co-op experience. Though the young engineer knew nothing about propulsion, he excitedly accepted a job in the Hypersonic Propulsion Branch. Today, he serves as the propulsion team-lead for X-43A.
Image left: Randy Voland, NASA Langley Research Center engineer on the X-43A, next to the third X-43A research vehicle.
Voland has been involved in the X-43A project since 1996. The same excitement he felt the day he was offered a position in the Propulsion Branch is evident today. "X-43A is exciting because it is a flight project," he said. "It is a big deal to prove something in flight that actually works."
Researchers like Voland wanted to prove the capabilities of the scramjet engine in flight. Since the problem in the first flight occurred so early, the scramjet engine experiment was never reached. To ensure a successful second flight and experiment, Voland's team worked hard to re-evaluate everything before the next flight. "We had to re-look at everything," he said. "We had a couple of minor things that we dealt with on our systems and eventually made some changes with how the engine was operated. The changes were made so the engine would be less likely to flameout or un-start."
With the second flight behind them, Voland and his team are adjusting to the changes of the third flight. One big difference the team had to overcome before the third flight was the jump to Mach 10 from Mach 7. "The engine operates quite differently at Mach 10. So we had a lot of preliminary calculations and tests that were used to finalize a propulsion database," he said. The database is used to determine how much force the engine is going to put out at different conditions.
X-43A was designed to prove that a scramjet engine could power a real plane and accelerate. "We could prove the engine on the ground and in calculations, but we needed to prove it in the air," he said. "The success of the second flight answered a lot of questions for us."
According to Voland, X-43A is only a small step in proving the success of the scramjet engine: "To me, the next big step after X-43A would be making these vehicles reusable and discovering how we transition from a low-speed propulsion system to a high-speed propulsion system in flight." He believes if the transition can be made successfully and the aircraft can take off from the ground, the engine system will be proven for practical purposes, such as the first stage of a two stage space launch vehicle, or potentially for commercial air travel.
Voland's involvement with X-43A and the resources available to him through NASA, have kept him working at Langley. "I have worked with a lot of companies and universities, but the facilities and people here at Langley have the potential to do and create amazing things," he said. "It is still one of the best places to work."
Aside from his involvement with X-43A, Voland is working on his master's degree in bioengineering from Arizona State University. In his small amount of spare time, he enjoys camping and outdoor activities.
NASA Langley Research Center