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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Remarks at MOVE Opening Ceremony

Category: Regional
October, 2018
Bruggeman Room, CBIS
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

I welcome all of our guests to the formal opening of the Center for Mobility with Vertical Lift, or MOVE, in the Rensselaer School of Engineering.

At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, we believe in taking on the very hardest of problems—the “grand challenges.” We also believe that to make headway against them, we must work alongside talented partners in government and industry. To this end…

I would like to acknowledge Dr. Bill Lewis, director of the United States Army Aviation Development Directorate and head of the National Rotorcraft Technology Center, which provided seed funding for MOVE.

I also thank Mr. Elias Rigas, and Dr. Rajneesh Singh of the Army Research Laboratory for their support and collaboration.

We are grateful to Dr. Vineet Sahasrabudhe and Mr. Steve Weiner of the Class of 1978 for the support of the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation.

We thank Mr. Chris Jaran, also of the Class of 1978, the CEO of Terrafugia, for the generous funding of research projects at MOVE.

We welcome Mr. David Koopersmith—again, of the truly remarkable Rensselaer Class of 1978, as well as Vice President and General Manager of Boeing Vertical Lift—an important industry collaborator.

And we are delighted to have with us Mr. Mike Hirshberg, Executive Director of the Vertical Flight Society.

It is a great pleasure to see so many of our alumni and alumnae here. The longstanding excellence of the education offered by our Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering is readily apparent, when one considers the degree to which Rensselaer graduates dominate the field of vertical flight.

In the last 25 years, three of our alumni have won the Dr. Alexander Klemin Award “for notable achievement in advancing the field of vertical flight aeronautics,” the highest honor bestowed by the Vertical Flight Society. They include Dr. Kenneth Rosen of the Rensselaer Classes of 1965 and 1970, who is with us today. Dr. Rosen’s expertise in a wide range of aero-thermodynamic topics has been incorporated in the systems for many helicopters, including the UH-60 Black Hawk.

Mr. Steve Weiner, whom I mentioned earlier, is another Klemin honoree, and chief engineer of the JMR-Defiant and the X2 Technology Demonstrator.

And although he is not with us today, I am sure that many of you are familiar with the work of our third Klemin honoree, Mr. Frank Harris of the Rensselaer Class of 1956, who was chief engineer of the Bell OH-58D Scout Helicopter, one of the most successful Army Aviation procurement programs.

As you know, Rensselaer graduates have been connecting people and communities since our founding. They have designed and developed canals, bridges, the transcontinental railroad, ships, aircraft, vehicles for space exploration, as well as many foundational technologies in the digital realm—offering a previously unprecedented mobility to people, goods, and ideas—powering our economy and undergirding our military strength.

When I consider the characteristics that have allowed Rensselaer people continuously to reshape our world, I think often of the great aircraft designer Robert Widmer of the Rensselaer Class of 1938, who let nothing stand in the way of the future—and especially not his bosses. The day after test pilot Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947, Mr. Widmer told his manager that he wanted to design the first supersonic bomber. When his manager asked him to stick to the existing contracts, he designed the aircraft on his own time. Two years later, when the Air Force wanted such an aircraft, his design for the B-58 was ready.

This was hardly the only time Mr. Widmer defied the higher-ups. He also secretly designed the F-16, a lightweight fighter, without their consent, and hid the prototypes. Again, when the Department of Defense wanted such a fighter, the design was ready.

Surely, we do not urge our students to defy their bosses, but today, with MOVE, we are embracing the spirit—to not only anticipate the future, but race forward to meet, and to shape, it.

Together, all of us can envision the opportunities: The “future of Vertical Lift platforms” is one of six key modernization priorities of the United States Army.

In the private sector, with the emergent field of multi-rotor electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing aircraft—we are moving far beyond hobbyist drones into the realm of air shipping and air taxis. Uber and Cora, founded by Larry Page of Google, are both developing air taxi networks and air taxis as we speak. And Terrafugia, under the leadership of our alumnus Mr. Jaran, is developing personal air vehicles—cars that can both drive and fly!

As you know, VTOL aircraft are going to help us to address many challenges, including national security and emergency response—which is especially important, given the increasing frequency of natural disasters, such as the recent Hurricane Florence, earthquakes, and tsunamis.

E-VTOL aircraft, in particular, represent a new form of sustainable aviation that can help us to replace greenhouse-gas emitting vehicles with a cleaner form of transport, as well as ease the congestion on our roads, and improve people’s lives by cutting long commute times down to size.

However, to make potential revolutions in vertical lift a reality—and to create larger, faster aircraft—both piloted and autonomous—with greater endurance and the ability to navigate unpredictable conditions, both on battlefields and in urban environments, many fundamental research questions await us. 

We require advances in…

  • aeromechanics and aerodynamics,
  • nanotechnology and advanced materials,
  • energy storage and management,
  • autonomy and control systems, and
  • real-time diagnostics and decision-making.  

At Rensselaer, we have a special opportunity, also, to contribute to vertical flight the emerging technologies in artificial intelligence and machine learning, data analytics, edge computing, and immersive systems—areas in which Rensselaer is making significant investments, along with our research partner IBM.

Under the leadership of Professor Farhan Gandhi, our Rosalind and John J. Redfern Jr. ’33 Endowed Chair in Aerospace Engineering, MOVE is convening faculty and students in many, many different disciplines, and leaders in both the private sector and government, to focus on advancing vertical lift technologies.

This makes MOVE a wonderful example of the paradigm we term The New Polytechnic. The polytechnic in our name comes from the Greek for “skilled in many arts.” As The New Polytechnic, Rensselaer serves as a great crossroads for talented people across all disciplines, sectors, geographies and generations, collaborating to address the most complex global challenges, and to develop, and use, the most advanced tools and technologies.

We are very proud today, with the creation of MOVE, to formalize an important aspect of The New Polytechnic—that focused on the technologies of vertical flight—to which many of you already have contributed so much.

I will end this morning by quoting Igor Sikorsky, the great pioneer of vertical lift: “According to the laws of aerodynamics,” Sikorsky said, “the bumblebee cannot fly. But the bumblebee does not know the laws of aerodynamics, so it goes ahead and flies.”

Well, at Rensselaer, we do know the laws of aerodynamics, and with the advent of the Rensselaer Center for Mobility with Vertical Lift, we bring together many bumblebees among our faculty, students, and partners—who will invent new ways to fly—and change the world.