RHRC Featured in Aerovations
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
Brian Kramer, Rolling Hills’ President and
Chief Executive Officer, called his experience with SBIR/STTR programs
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
“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
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
Kramer anticipates that RHRC will submit a Phase II proposal to continue the
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
“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
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
“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
Kramer said his company has realized many benefits working on SBIR/STTR
“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.