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Change is in the Wind for NASA Glenn Engine Research - Part 2

Thursday, April 7, 2005 at 9:02 AM

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In Part 1, we began a tour of the NASA Glenn facility where some of the nation's leading-edge research on aircraft engines is done. With federal funding cuts, many of the programs that reduce pollution and improve engine efficiency will come to an end over the next few months. ideastream's Karen Schaefer takes us back now to the Engine Research Building, where tour guides Jeff Swan and John Leone are discussing some of the accomplishments Glenn's aeronautics research have brought to America's commercial aircraft industry. See Also: Change is in the Wind for NASA Glenn Engine Research - Part 1 (Feature Story)

Jeff Swan: What they were able to do in this particular facility, working with GE and Pratt and Whitney and Allison and Honeywell, was to reduce the current combuster emissions 70% NOx-wise and they also reduced the CO2 emissions. And that technology is now finding into the current generation aircraft. GE is using the technology in their modified TAPS - that’s the acronym they’re using for their combustor section of the GE-90 engine. So it’s making applications right now in the Boeing 777 aircraft.

John Leone: The CE5 where we’re going now is currently doing work on the GE TAPS technology, so you’ll get to see that. This is Bob Tacina, he’s a researcher who works over in CE5. You met his daughter earlier, Kathy Tecina.

I’ve heard that there are generations of folks who’ve worked here at NASA Glenn.

Bob Tacina: Yeah, well she visited here when she was young and liked what we did I guess and thought it might be an interesting place to come to work. She’s a little worried about her job right now, but…

Now have long have you worked at NASA Glenn, sir?

Bob Tacina: 37 years.

One of the things that we can do here that is at least unique in this country and maybe in the world, is that we can use laser diagnostics. We have these sections that have windows in them. So we can put these windows in here, and we can look right inside at the combustion process.

We’re working mostly on nitrogen oxides and it’s very dependent on all the fuel-air mixes. You know it’s a very complicated process, combustion. You inject liquid fuel and you have to atomize it, vaporize it and mix it with the air. And you want to do this very quickly, efficiently, so you don’t create the nitrogen oxides.

We can see how it’s mixing and see how the NOx is formed and hopefully reduce the amount of NOx - nitrogen oxides.

Now this is obviously long-term basic research. Is this a program that’s under threat of being downsized or cut?

Bob Tacina: (laughs) Yeah. End of September is when our funding ends.

Will you have a finished product then?

Bob Tacina: No. The TAPS will be - they were actually thinking of putting that into production for GE. But long-term, what we call a 70% reduction. We were looking at 80 and 90% reduction.

What will happen to a test facility like this? Will it still have application for other NASA research or NASA programs - or will it be mothballed?

John Leone: Right now there has been shown some interest from the space exploration side for using these facilities for some testing. So there is applications for other uses.

What will industry do if this facility isn’t available for them?

Bob Tacina: We’ll end up with nitrogen oxides and emissions where they’re at. We won’t be making further reductions. That research will end. We want to get the next generation and have products superior to anyone else in the world - we won’t be doing that.

Are the Europeans doing any work on this?

Bob Tacina: Yeah, yeah, they have a big program.

So we might see Boeing going to Europe to get its testing done in the future.

Bob Tacina: Our particular work is with GE and Pratt and Whitney for the engines. And these companies are becoming worldwide companies you know. General Electric produces its engine not only with the French, the CFM series, but there’s parts - fuel injectors and things - come from all over the world now.

Outsourcing.

Bob Tacina: Even a lot of the computational work they outsource to places like India now.

Thank you so much.

Jeff Swan: Another thing I wanted to elaborate on too is the standby of facilities. In the past it’s always been our practice that if we don’t have research needs in a given facility that we will put it in a standby condition. We’ll identify minimum maintenance that needs to be done to make sure that the equipment is preserved and we can come back and begin operations in a given facility with a minimal investment. We generally had a enough workload at the center too to be able to move staff between different facilities. But with so much reduction in the workload recently that we’re looking at requirements for staff reductions now, instead of being able to move people between facilities. So it’s going to get more and more difficult in the future to bring these facilities out of a standby condition because I think the core knowledge of the people that operate the facility is probably not going to be there.

And how long have you been working here?

Jeff Swan: Almost 25 years.

Now as a facilities manager I’m assuming your job is going to still be there.

Jeff Swan: Hard to read the tea leaves. While there are cuts projected for this building, there are other test facilities that look to be healthy in the future.

So there’s still a lot of good work that’s going to carry on, but it’s kind of a shame what’s going on in this building though.

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