Redbull hangár

Redbull hangár

2012. január 2., hétfő

House of applied science – My visit at Joanneum university’s aviation department

V. part – With the eyes of a student

Text: Gabriella, photos: Joachim and Gabriella

I've already mentioned my friend, Joachim in the first part, who's been studying at Joanneum and gave me the idea to make a report. Now he tells you about his motivations to become an engineer, the really unique projects in which he was involved at the university and the German Aerospace Center.

In the university's test lab

Gabriella: Let’s move ahead in chronological order. You’ve told me a lot about your studies already, but I don’t know where your interest for aviation is coming from. Can you recollect any determining experience?
Joachim: Yes, I still remember it very well: when I was 8 or 9 years old, we got new neighbors. The man was a pilot, his wife a stewardess. This is how it started. Once I could fly with them in the cockpit, they told me a lot about everything, showed me many things and I wanted to be a pilot at that time, but I was just a kid. There would have been two directions, the military and the civilian. I didn’t really want to be a military pilot, because I didn’t like soldiery and the job of civilian pilots is not as good nowadays as 10-20 years before: the plane flies nearly automatically, you just watch the screens of the computer and you don’t have as good salary as before. It’s not a good job from a family point of view either, because I saw at these neighbors, that they can hardly see each other. It was that time when I started to think about rather being an engineer. Beside it, even though, that this pilot acquaintance was in vain in a high position at the flight company, it happened, that he flew for an Indian company for half a year, because there wasn’t a need for so many pilot after 11th September. I don’t want to say, that being a pilot is not a good job, I just didn’t want to be that, because it’s a very flexible work, you go to elsewhere every day which is good and bad in the same time. Every little details is defined by the flight company and if something happens, you have to do what the checklist says. So actually you are not free in your decisions regarding handling the aircraft, you act as a machine, like a computer following algorithms. Referring back to the 11th September, pilots experience an accident like this differently and I didn’t want to meet things like this. If I want to be a pilot just because of flying, then I could do this, when my financial situation is good and I can afford it to myself. It’s not a problem with a small airplane, because you can do what you like with them. So I stayed at the idea to be an engineer, because I can also work with planes this way and I liked it too.

G: Some youngsters try gliding as it is a bit affordable regarding its cost. Aren’t there glider clubs in Austria?
J: Yes, there are.
G: And didn’t you think about to try flying without engine there?
J: When I was 15-16, I lived in Vienna. I should have go out to one the sport airfields outside the city and my parents didn’t have a car, so that wasn’t possible that time. But I have many collaegues and friends at the university, who fly with a glider and it’s really not expensive. I guess, but I’m not sure, that you pay around 1000-1200 € a year and you can fly as much as you want. Sometimes I fly with them. Glider flying would be enough to me, because I could fly like a bird, riding the warm air streams.

As special agent at Paris Air Show :-)

G: Maybe after finishing your studies, you can do this, can’t you?
J: Yes, I will do this, if  I will have enough money. But it will be in 4-5 years. There are more important things now, to finish the university, get a good diploma, buy a flat and if I have it, it will be the first to learn to fly.

G: Since when did you want to be an engineer, rather than a pilot exactly?
J: Since the age of 16. It was that time, when I was bethinking, that I’ll be a pilot, I have to do it all my life and I checked on the internet what does it mean exactly. The problem is, that many young men are thinking about a pilot as it was 20 years before: you are the hero, go everywhere and you can see the world. It was true in the past. My pilot friend told me, that when he had a flight to the Carribean 20 years before, or to Hawaii, they flew there, stayed 5 days and went back suntanned. Nowdays, you sleep there and return and you don’t see the world, because if you spend 10 hours there, then you rather sleep, as it is mandatory and fly back immediately. They get fewer and fewer money and get worse and worse job contracts. Many pilots say, that their job is a good one, but they just say it, because they always talking like this, but if you check it, that’s not the truth. As they get older, around 30-40 years, they want an office job and they only want to fly part-time. If you become a pilot, then you have to fly your whole life - if we take the classical pilot life. You also have to think about, that not you are flying now, but the plane and you are just watching it. And what will happen in 20 or 40 years? Pilots will be necessary that time too, but the plane will do everything and you will just supervise it. And that was the reason why I didn’t want to be a pilot.

G: You mentioned, that there is no aviation engineer education elsewhere in Austria like this. So was it clear to go to Graz?
J: There is similar education in Germany.

One of his sport activities: mountaineering
G: Did you think about to go there?
J: Yes, but it’s very different. There is a comprehensive aviation education here in Graz, but in Germany, there is a 3 years general engineering education and then 2 years aviation engineering. I deal only with aircraft for 5 years here. I guess, in today’s world, when there are many specializations, you have to specialize in something and it is better to work only on airplanes for 5 years, because I will be more qualified if I do only this. When I worked in Germany, I met some people who learned aviaton engineering there and they were very good in their profession, but not in general things. I knew every part of the aircraft, but they only knew some details of it and it was a big difference between them and me. I think, if you become a project or program manager in the field of aviation, you need general knowledge, there are the electronic and mechanic experts though, who are good at things at which you are not, but they are not good at aviation in general. They specialize in a certain field, but that’s all. You have to choose what you are the most interested in. I hear about many specialization nowadays, what you can learn in Germany and at universities similar to mine in Graz, but as I didn’t hear about them when I was 16-17, I chose Graz.

G: When you chose this specialization, then you began to prepare consciously from that courses what could be important or you were good at everything?
J: Before the university?
G: Yes.
J: I feared a bit. I knew that the entrance exam is not easy at the university and they enroll only 40 from more then 100 applicant. Beside it, I didn’t attend a technical secondary school like most of the others, but I made it somehow. I know, that my test result wasn’t the best (it was average), because I didn’t have engineering knowledge, but I got good points at the verbal exam where I was asked about my motivation. Then there were preparatory courses 2-3 weeks before the university from maths, physics, informatics which I attended, because I knew, that I need it. I guess, it was good. I had to learn everything from the start and sometimes I had problems with understanding the technical things, but it was only in the first two semesters. I think, I was on the same level with the others after that.

G: Does it mean, that you attended a general high school?
J: There are three kinds of high school in Austria: a general high school which I attended, where you learn a bit from everything, then there is the very economic one and the very technical one. If you finish the last one and work three years in a technical field in Austria, then you are an engineer. You don’t have a diploma of course, but you become an engineer, which is already quite good. Otherwise there are several kind of schools within this type. Some of them specialize in electrical engineering, others in informatics or mechanics.

With the university's Draken

G: Maybe it would have been an advantage, but you were enrolled to the university.
J: Yes, there wasn’t any problem. There is a technical high school in Austria (in Eisenstadt), which is about aviation and there are three students in my class who finished there. They knew much more than me at the beginning, but now sometimes I know more than they, so it was easier only in the first year for them. I had to learn more than the others in the first year.

G: What were you asked about at the verbal entrance exam?
J: They asked me about the latest news in aviation, type of aircraft which are used by airlines, what aircraft manufacturers I know, etc. There are no technical questions on the interview, they rather would like to know what do you know about aviation, airplanes in general. They also check if you are suitable to this study degree. There is a psychologist at this interview who watches you behaviour.

At an university sport event
G: What were the most interesting projects in which you participated or learn a lot from it?
J: There were many. Once we (a group for two) designed a gear which was used between the engine and the propeller. The engine and the propeller have a different speed, that’s why a gear was necessary to built in between them. In this case, you have to think about what forces can occur, you have to find the right material and size to every possible case. It was very interesting to me, because it was at the very beginning of my studies and was the first real task that we had to solve. We had to find a solution to a technical problem. We had two or three informatics projects as well. At one of them, we had to write a simulation program for a landing gear. A plane was given with three wheels, you let it drop down from a certain height and attitude and you had to examine how the planes behaviours. We had to enter some certain parameters: the size of the landing gear, the tamping coefficient, the spring coefficient, the weight and so on. It sounds very simple, but writing a complete program is a huge work, because we started it from zero. We had to write a code at first to simulate these things. There was another program where we had to build a plane tail in a CATIA (3D design software). We were 30 all together, divided into 10 groups, everybody got one part of the tail to design and then we had to assemble the single parts. Then we participated in the JXP project within the bachelor program. I often undertook a summer job at the university, because I could earn a little money with it. I built a climate chamber, in which the humidity and the temperature could be controlled and was possible to observe the behaviour of different materials in different conditions.

 G: Is it still used at the university?
J: Yes, for example at the tension tests, where you can see how quickly materials brake at certain tensions. If a material brakes, it not does only depend on the level of power, but the temperature and the humdity too, so that’s why the climate chamber was so useful. Then there was the Red Bull Air Race simulation, what I wrote with a colleagues for the flight simulator. And there were many more...
G: Did you have a favourite course?
J: Yes, I guess, everyone of us has a favourite course. What I’ve always liked, were the applied construction lectures, we had 5 or 6 from that and the lectures about economy and management. But I could mention thermodynamics and aerodynamics courses too.

G: Could you tell me about that Airbus project in which you were participated with your classmates?
J: Yes. Airbus organized a competition, in which every student all over the world could participate. We had to develop ideas to make aviation more environmentally friendly. I heard about it from a professor, then I asked three friends from the univerity if they want to participate in it. I guess, we had quite a good idea, we almost got to the final round, but the problem was, that it was too general, wasn’t detailed enough, so we had to exit before the finals. But I think, the idea was really a good one. We talked about it to many people from experienced companies, our teachers and experts who have been working in their profession for 20 years and they agreed, that the idea is good and works well, it could be possible to reduce Airbus’s emission with 20-30 %, but the problem was, that our system was too theoretical, there wasn’t an implementation plan to it and wasn’t detailed enough.

G: But what was it based on?
J: The idea was to add hydrogen to the burning process in the combustor. Airplanes would fly just as well with kerosine like these days, but adding hydrogen to it, it would be possible to reduce the necessary amount of kerosine, thus emission would be reduced. I don’t wan’t to go into its details that much, I would highlight only one thing to make you understand how complex that is. The combustor has a given temperature. If this is heated up with burning kerosine, measurable substances release. If we get too much hydrogen into the combustor, which has basically a high heating value, it can cause a problem, because it overheats the combustion process and NOx gases (nitrogen-oxids) are formed, which would be even more harmful to the environment, if we burn only kerosine. So it’s not easy to find the optimal vaporization of hydrogen and kerosine, because we are talking about liquids with different behaviour.

Another photo from Paris Air Show

G: Why was the idea too theoretical?
J: We made only a computer simulaton about our idea, but we didn’t apply it to a certain aircraft type.

G: You and your mates did it in your freetime and you didn’t have enough time to detail the idea properly?
J: No. The problem was, that we didn’t have access to data of actual aircraft types, but only to old ones. Airbus reasonably didn’t give free run of those airplanes’ data what they develop at present. So in order our idea can be used, it should be applied to a concrete type, which is not so easy. Beside it, a hydrogen station network at the airports aound the world and the necessary technology and logistics need to be developed. It would take many years to introduce it and would cost a lot of money. But traditional fuels are getting more and more expensive and the world’s oil stock will run out soon (in 50-100 years), so we have to think about a solution like this. With our idea the amount of hydrogen could be increased gradually, thus less and less kerosine would be necessary. Gaseous or liquid hydrogen can be produced totally environmentally friendly, for example with solar energy. I met these kind of researches at the German Aerospace Center.

G: If you mentioned them, could you tell me about you work at German Aerospace Center as a trainee?
J: I worked for them for three months, working on my diploma thesis. I was at department for unmanned aerial vehicles part of the institute for flight system technology. Firstly I need to tell, that it is a well known company worldwide with such a big research center, where many people work, thousands of engineers, famous researchers. They showed me the latest technologies, which were very interesting and I had the possibility to work on the PROMETHEUS project which was a bit similar to the JXP project at our university. It was a follow-up of the ARTIS-project (Autonomous Rotorcraft Testbad for Intelligent Systems)- They have reached good results already with it in the field of autonomus flying and automatically controlled missions. It can get from A to B already, if there are buildings, trees or other obstacles between, thanks to its camera and laser systems. They try to apply it on fixed wing aircraft which represents actually the PROMETHEUS project, but the difficulty is, that while a helicopter can stop in the air to „think”, a fixed wing aircaft has to fly constantly. So they need to develop a time-critical, decision-making automatic landing procedures and much more to it, to make it able to find a place where it can land. My task was related to the plane’s sensors. As the aircraft doesn’t have a pilot, it can rely only on these to appoint its current place, the strongness of the wind and the proper flying situation accordingly to these. The sensor systems often fail and I had to make estimates and calculations rearding the occurrence of these failures. I made several ground experiments, for example in the wind tunnel.

Working in a small wind tunnel

G: Was it difficult to get this internship?
J: No, because one of my professors works there and I told him, that I would like to get this internship place and he said OK. Its a state company, their mission  is to train as many students for the country as they can and many students work there. There were 16 employees and 5-6 students at my department, so the department’s 30% were student.

G: Do you have a favourite aircraft type?
J: Actually, no. There are many airplanes in the world and I don’t know every of them. I guess, every aircraft is exceptional, because each of them was designed to different charges. They couldn’t compete against each other

G: Is there a technology or technical development which impressed you?
J: I would say, that the whole aviation technology is very exciting. If you take for example a modern aircraft engine, you need years to understand its mechanism meaning every part of it.

G: Obviously you follow the latest developments?
J: Yes, there are many magazines about it. Everybody knows the most importants, but there are many little news and it’s impossibe to monitor every field. The A-380 consists for example of more than one million parts, many of them are innovations – it is impossible to follow all of them.

G: What do you think about that theory, which says that the oil lobby doesn’t let the spread of alternative fuels?
J: I think, that if a company really want to produce environment friendly airplanes, then they can do it maybe not in commercial aviations, but in certain fields

G: And what if they don’t have enough time to take care of it?
J: They are important/beneficial from a environment protection and economic point of view, because thus you don’t need kerosine. But a company cannot live without money. If it spends a lot of money to environmentally friendly technology, which doesn’t bring economic benefit, but it makes the plane more expensive, then the company won’t sell that aircraft, so it doesn’t make an economic benefit.

G: What are your future plans? What is the dream job to you?
J:  My plans don’t depend on a company or country, but the field. I would like to be a technical project manager. I would like to have a group of technical experts in a field to coordinate them. I’m interested in two fields: environmentally friendly aircraft technologies and unmanned aerial systems.

At the end of the last part of my report, I would like to say thank you to the following persons:
  • to Ms. Schuss from the university’s PR department for her kindness to provide me very useful basic informations about the aviation department
  • to all of my interviewees – especially to Mr. Wiesler, head of the bachelor program – for their time and the interesting stories
  • to Joachim for his excellent hospitality and for showing a new dimension to me
  • and last but not least to Balázs and Gergő for their constant professional support