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RHRC Featured in Aerovations


November 30, 2005 - Rolling Hills Research Corporation has been profiled in the November 30th issue of the NASA publication "Aerovations."  This particular issue features the Small Business Innovative Research program, and discusses the successes that the program has helped to bring about.


RHRC would like to thank Mr. Jay Levine for taking the time to discuss our work, and for writing such a complimentary article.


A full-color pdf version of the November issue of Aerovations can be downloaded from this site.  But, as a word of warning, this file is about 4.5 MB and could take a considerable amount of time to download if a broadband connection isn't available.  For those of you who don't mind missing out on the color pictures, the text of the article is included below:


The successes of the Rolling Hills Research Corp. illustrate all that NASA’s SBIR/STTR contracts are designed to achieve: create a new tool for researchers to use in expanding their knowledge base, and give small companies opportunities to collaborate with government and academic institutions for mutual benefit. The end result, when everything goes as planned, are new commercial products that offer innovative solutions to old problems.

Brian Kramer, Rolling Hills’ President and Chief Executive Officer, called his experience with SBIR/STTR programs “exceptional.”

No stranger to the program, Kramer first began submitting proposals while a principle investigator at Eidetics Corp., a Los Angeles-based aeronautical research company, in 1991. His focus there was on aeronautical technology development and aircraft simulation, and his boss was Jerry Malcolm. Malcolm later was Dryden’s assistant director for research engineering.

In fact, when Kramer established El Segundo-based Rolling Hills Research Corp. in 2002, he bought the rights to aeronautics technologies for which he led development efforts while at Eidetics. So while Rolling Hills is just three years old, the company’s experience in aeronautical research actually extends back longer than a decade.

“The process (of submitting an SBIR/STTR proposal) is pretty simple,” Kramer said. “The proposal itself has a very specific format that’s required and it’s limited to only 25 pages. You can’t go too wild on it. The NASA Web site does a really nice job of laying out what all the requirements are, what kinds of things are expected, and it has examples.

“The hard part is coming up with that good idea.” That’s where RHRC often relies on the creativity of its Chief Aerodynamicist, Michael Kerho. Kerho was also employed at Eidetics, and has been with RHRC since its inception.

But while good ideas can sometimes be elusive, Rolling Hills has a solid track record and is currently involved with or proposing both Phase I and Phase II projects.

“You have to test the idea in Phase I and prove to yourself and NASA that the idea has some merit. It’s really in Phase II where you take the idea and develop it,” he said.

In order to strengthen his proposals, he and his staff make sure they do their homework. There is a lot of dialogue with Dryden researchers to ensure that what Rolling Hills officials plan to propose meets a specific need for Dryden and NASA.

Sources for basic research funding have been scarce in recent years, Kramer added, but SBIR/STTR contract funds are consistent. That provides companies with an attractive incentive for filing proposals.

“One of big benefits of the SBIR program is that it is one of the few funding sources available, especially for a small company, to take any kind of an idea through a basic research feasibility study and develop it into a commercially viable project,” he said.

Teamed up with researchers from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Rolling Hills Research engineers currently are working on a Phase I STTR program. On the Cal Poly campus, RHRC engineers are tapping the institution’s rocket motor expertise for the study of an advanced aerospike rocket engine nozzle.

“We’re branching out,” Kramer explained. “Rocket propulsion is not our usual field of expertise, but Cal Poly is helping us come up to speed on that. They have a facility where they can do cold flow of gasses through these nozzles. We’re using an advanced computational fluid dynamics code (OVERFLOW) to extrapolate the results from the bench test up to what you would expect to see at high altitudes, where these (engines) would be used. So far we’re seeing great results.”

Kramer anticipates that RHRC will submit a Phase II proposal to continue the research.

In October, RHRC was awarded a contract for a Phase II proposal to refine an approach to controlling the transition from smooth to turbulent airflow in conditions of low speed at high altitude. The novel transition-control technology was shown to reduce aerodynamic drag penalties by as much as 35 to 60 percent when compared to traditional techniques, and increased it to as much as 190 percent at off-design conditions. Potential applications for the technology include those in micro unmanned air vehicles; high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft; Mars exploratory flyers and propeller systems.

“It has good commercialization prospects,” Kramer said of the project. “It involves very low Reynolds number performance enhancement for aircraft. It applies to two seemingly very different kinds of aircraft that are very closely related. That includes the real high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft and the very small, micro UAVs. The thing that ties them together is they both operate with really low Reynolds numbers. Our technology fits nicely into that.”

Rolling Hills Research engineers recently received funding from NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., for a Phase III agreement that bridged the SBIR research done at Eidetics and Rolling Hills to commercialize the latter’s advanced water tunnel facilities. In addition, RHRC has nearly completed a Phase II SBIR project with the U.S. Army’s Aeroflightdynamics Branch for development of a compliant-structure helicopter rotor blade that can change shape to optimize for local conditions when the blade rotates, Kramer said.

For those reasons and others, Kramer said the SBIR program has been vital to the success of his small but cutting-edge business.

“It’s been a real benefit to us,” he emphasized. “We’re starting to focus on how to take an idea in the SBIR process and develop it before the end of Phase II into something that’s commercially viable. In aeronautics it’s challenging because normally our customers are large airframers, who have their own research groups. We’re trying to broaden our applications as much as possible and look at areas where there are a lot more (potential end) users.

“What we’re concentrating on right now is the UAV area because so many people are developing these kinds of vehicles and they run the gambit from very, very expensive aircraft on down to the hobbyist market. We’re trying to develop technologies that will really enhance the performance of these kinds of vehicles and give them much longer range and better safety.”

Another success for Rolling Hills was a Phase III agreement on the company’s time-dependent, nonlinear aerodynamics work.

“The idea is that the flow field often lags behind the position an aircraft is in, and that kind of lag in the flow field could make it difficult to predict the aerodynamics, or to simulate them,” Kramer explained. “We were using a water tunnel facility with a computer-controlled model support that can reproduce dynamic motions of aircraft, and a submersible strain gage balance that we developed – years ago, under another SBIR funded by NASA Dryden. The system allows us to use the water tunnel very much like a wind tunnel, but it’s got a couple of distinct advantages.”

One of those is that when the rotational rates for an aircraft are scaled down so as to be appropriate for a water tunnel, the rates are very slow, which means the inertial forces are a much smaller component of the total forces. In other words, under such conditions it becomes much easier to extract aerodynamic information. Another major advantage is that the flow visualization in a water tunnel is excellent and can help diagnose what is driving aerodynamic forces, he said.

Kramer said his company has realized many benefits working on SBIR/STTR contracts.

“The ability to look at some of these basic concepts and have a way of finding out just how feasible they are is a big benefit,” he said. “Another is being able to work with the people at Dryden. They have a lot of really great resources, whether it’s in computational fluid dynamics, flight testing, or just tapping the Center’s tremendous amount of expertise.”

Nothing is certain in research, but what can be counted on is that Rolling Hills Research Corp. will enter the SBIR/STTR process again soon with more new and innovative ideas.






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