A Model Internship
Marr kneels beside UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter hub hardware

Marr kneels beside UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter hub hardware. Image Credit: Conor Marr

After winning an internship contest held by NASA and the American Helicopter Society, Conor Marr had the opportunity to work at NASA's Ames Research Center in California. While there, he conducted research on dampers that reduce risk from instabilities in helicopter rotors and acquired unique real-world experience with actual aircraft.
In which NASA student opportunity project did you participate, and how did you get involved in it?

I was offered an internship with NASA by winning the American Helicopter Society/NASA Lichten Internship Award this past spring. The process began back in the fall of 2007 when I submitted an abstract to the regional AHS Lichten competition about my master's research. I was then invited to compete in the regional competition at Boeing in Philadelphia. My presentation was chosen as the winner, so I then prepared and submitted a paper to the national competition. My paper was chosen as the winner of the AHS/NASA Lichten Internship Award, and I was presented the award at the AHS Forum in the spring of 2008. I was given the opportunity to work at any of the NASA sites and chose to work at NASA Ames in the Aeromechanics Branch. The Education Associates Program at NASA Ames worked out the details of my internship.

Explain the research you conducted through your NASA involvement and why this topic is important.

I have been working on a variety of projects, though a large portion of my time here has been spent working on Fluidlastic Lead-Lag damper modeling. Lead-lag dampers are vital to helicopters with three or more blades. They protect against air and ground resonance: both phenomena that a pilot does not want to experience and can lead to the destruction of the aircraft. Fluidlastic dampers combine the benefits of the low-maintenance and reliable elastomeric dampers but give higher damping like hydraulic dampers. Unfortunately, the Fluidlastic dampers are more difficult to model. I have been working on making a model that can predict the force and damping output from a Fluidlastic damper for realistic inputs from the rotor system so that the model can be included in rotor simulation codes to more accurately model the rotor dynamics. I also looked at other damper designs and rotor designs during my stay at NASA. All these projects are focused on reducing rotor hub complexity, weight and aerodynamic drag while giving improved performance.

What has been the most exciting part of your research?

Working with and meeting the other interns here at Ames has been a fantastic experience. We have gotten to travel around the Ames campus and see the wide variety of research that is being conducted here. Probably the most exciting has been watching the work being done with the RASCAL (Rotorcraft Aircrew Systems Concept Airborne Laboratory) system on the Black Hawk (helicopter) since you do not get to work with actual aircraft that often at school. The interns in the aeromechanics branch have frequently gotten to see what modifications were being made to the Black Hawk and then watch it fly and test the new equipment. This was so exciting to watch. Additionally, the interns were all very close, so we included each other in the projects we were working on. This allowed us to see first-hand all the interesting research we were each working on, including some amazing brownout simulation and mitigation research.

What is your educational background and what are your future educational plans?

I graduated from Penn State University in December of 2007 with a concurrent bachelor's and master's degree in aerospace engineering. I am currently working on my Ph.D., at Penn State. I plan to continue working in the Fluidlastic damper area. I hope to use the model I developed for my master's degree as a tool to help design a new "smart" Fluidlastic damper that would help to further reduce weight in the rotor hub and maintenance required. I am co-advised by Dr. Edward Smith and Dr. George Lesieutre, and work at the Penn State Vertical Lift Research Center of Excellence. LORD Corporation generously provides much of the funding for this project, as well as technical support. Additionally, I am involved in helping to design, create and establish a vertical lift museum at Penn State.

What inspired you to choose the education/career field you did?

I have always loved building and flying, so aerospace engineering was the obvious choice. My grandfather probably planted the seeds for my love of flight since he was always trying to make the best paper airplane and would often recruit me on this effort as a young boy. I moved from general aerospace to helicopter engineering during my junior year of college. I had always been fascinated by helicopters, so when I was offered the opportunity to get involved in helicopter research by Dr. Smith, I jumped at the chance. Since then, I have found the helicopter field to be one ripe with challenges to solve, exciting projects to work on, and dedicated and fascinating people to work with. But when it comes down to it, the thrill of watching the blades spin up and lift the aircraft off the ground is really at the heart of my interest in this field!

What do you think will be the most important things you'll take away from your involvement with NASA?

In addition to the great experiences and information from the tours and research projects that I was involved, I think the connections with all of the great people at Ames will be the most memorable and most important thing I take away form this experience. I know that the group of interns from the Aeromechanics Branch will definitely keep in touch and keep each other updated on the exciting work that we will all continue to do once we go our separate ways. We also became very close with the team members of Aeromechanics Branch who work permanently at NASA, so I am sure it will be interesting to keep in contact with them. Additionally, I think the responsibilities that the interns are given really help them to grow and understand how the "real world" works and how it is different from academia.

How do you think your NASA involvement will affect your future?

Aside from the great network of friends and co-workers mentioned above, I think that my stay at NASA has given me new ideas on how to approach research, and broadened my view of what research is actually being conducted around the country.

What are your future career plans?

I hope to get an R&D (Research and Development) position with one of the helicopter companies or here at NASA. I would definitely like to stay in the helicopter business! I also hope to be able to teach someday down the road, whether that be through an outreach program through my job, or an actual teaching position at a university.

What advice would you have for other students who are interested in becoming involved with, or working for, NASA?

This has been a fantastic experience that I would recommend to anyone. I got to work on exciting projects and see some of the leading edge research being conducted here. I made some great friends and met some very interesting people. I would advise interested students to demonstrate their ability to work well in a group, have an open mind and be willing to work hard, because it absolutely pays off!
NASA's student opportunity projects are designed to increase the number of scholastically well-suited, highly qualified, diverse students achieving degrees in engineering, mathematics, science or related fields. They support NASA's goal of strengthening NASA's and the nation's future workforce.

Related Resources
NASA Education Web Site   →
Ames Research Center   →

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services