AerE graduate student begins Pathways Internship at Air Force Research Laboratory

Andrew Thelen, a PhD student in aerospace Engineering, began a Pathways Internship this fall at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, just east of Dayton, Ohio. The AFRL leads the discovery, development, and integration of warfighting technologies for the U.S. air, space, and cyberspace forces. Andrew earned a B.S. in aerospace engineering in 2012 from Iowa State University and an M.S. in aerospace engineering in 2016.

Tell me how you first became aware of the Pathways Internship

AT: I first became familiar with Pathways Internships when I was interning at NASA Langley in fall 2016. My mentor there mentioned I may want to look into it, since most of their branch’s new hires started out as pathways. Both NASA and AFRL post their pathways openings on USAjobs, so I used that site a lot as a reference.

How did you become interested in this program?

AT: The pathways internship program sounded like a great learning experience, and in most cases it is a great way to secure employment after graduation. Also it pays very

Andrew Thelen earned his M.S. and B.S. from Iowa State in aerospace engineering.

well compared to assistantships, and my adviser (Leifur Leifsson) fully supported that type of opportunity. After my NASA Langley internship last fall, I was hoping for a NASA pathways position (I was unfamiliar with AFRL at the time), but they have only been posting those about once per year. Among those posted, only a handful seek graduate students and even fewer seek PhD students specifically.

At a conference in January, Dr. Leifsson got to know a researcher here (Philip Beran) and mentioned that I was seeking a pathways position. They were interested in collaborating through a research grant, and having me work at AFRL would help facilitate that. Pretty soon afterwards, Dr. Beran’s supervisor posted an opportunity so I applied for it. After some research, I found that NASA and AFRL have collaborated on numerous projects, and Dr. Beran has published many papers with NASA Langley researchers. Therefore, if I had gotten hired at NASA then I may have worked on the same projects as AFRL anyway, so it made sense to consider AFRL too. A few months down the road, I was offered the position and Dr. Beran ended up being my mentor.

Do you have an idea of what you will be doing there?

AT: We have a plan at least. I will be working on multi-fidelity approaches for fast flutter prediction of airfoils and wings. This is a joint project between the AFRL and Dr. Leifsson’s research group (the Simulation-Driven Optimization (SDO) Lab []). Ideally, the project will answer questions such as how broadly applicable multi-fidelity approaches are, how much you can speed up the analysis process, or whether you can derive more benefits through using more data. I will also get some exposure to other projects, including one with NASA, which is focused on expanding the FUN3D CFD code to produce aeroelastic sensitivities (Sensitivity Analysis for Multidisciplinary Systems (SAMS)). After coming up with the methods, I hope to wrap everything up into a generic code that will output flutter analysis results when given the appropriate data. That way, AFRL can use the methods for a variety of applications.

What has your research focused on?

AT: My research has been focused on aerodynamic shape optimization, which is a mix between design optimization and computational fluid dynamics (CFD). I focus specifically on surrogate modeling approaches rather than direct gradient-based methods. Dr. Leifsson started at ISU the same semester I started graduate school, so a lot of my time has been spent building CFD models. We now have some pretty good tools for optimizing wings and airfoils, so next we would like to set up some fluid-structure interaction (FSI) models.

What would you like to do with your career?

AT: After graduation, I would like to work in government for at least a few years. I enjoy government because it is not really driven by profits, but rather the organization’s mission statements. In the realm of aeronautics, that usually means investigating novel aircraft configurations or analysis methods, and ultimately steering industry in a certain direction (e.g. to reduce emissions, speed up the design process, lower costs, etc.).

How have you enjoyed your time so far?

AT: Yes, it has been enjoyable so far. The first couple weeks have been fairly laid back, since it will take time to get my computer/software set up. I expect the pace to pick up as I participate more in team efforts, which I look forward to.

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