Vertical Flight Foundation Scholarships

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Featured Biographies

Since 1977, the Vertical Flight Foundation Scholarship has financially supported more than 500 talented students' pursuit of engineering excellence in vertical flight technologies, thanks to the generosity of members like you. Below, some of our winners look back and reflect on the impact of receiving the scholarship.

Dr. Albert G. Brand

Director of Flight Technology & Simulation, Bell Helicopter
1984 VFF Scholarship Winner

I first learned about helicopters as an aerospace engineering student approaching my senior year. Professor Robin Gray taught the introductory course at Georgia Tech and explained the peculiar aerodynamics of rotating blades that involved flapping, feathering and lead lag motions. His description of the helicopter coping with reverse flow, retreating blade stall and compressibility in edgewise flight got me hooked on the challenges of vertical lift.

My membership in the AHS followed in short order, followed by a VFF scholarship that launched my graduate studies at the Rotorcraft Center. Now, three decades later, I am indebted to the AHS, the VFF and Georgia Tech for enabling my education and my career while introducing me to so many of the great leaders in this field. I continue to find technical challenges every day and I predict that the field of vertical lift will inspire the next generation of specialists who will take rotorcraft to the next level. The AHS and the VFF will be guideposts for these students and I look forward to meeting future VFF scholars as our industry prospers.

Professor Roberto Celi

University of Maryland
1980 and 1982 VFF Scholarship Winner

The responsibility for my lifelong professional love affair with helicopters falls squarely on the shoulders of Chuck Martin and P. T. Moore, the main characters of the TV series "The Whirlybirds," which started being shown in my native Italy while I was in first grade. Fast forward a few years, and the flamboyant Paolo Bellavita (who left us too soon) showed to us aeronautical engineering freshmen at the Polytechnic of Turin that you could be a super cool guy, nothing like the stereotypical engineer, and come up with the then breakthrough idea of a sleek fast twin, the Agusta A109. I was fortunate enough to have him as my first boss. Paolo introduced me to the person who had perhaps the greatest impact on my subsequent professional life, my PhD advisor at UCLA, Peretz Friedmann, and wrote one of the recommendation letters for the 1980 VFF Scholarship. After almost 30 years in the faculty of the rotorcraft program at the University of Maryland, 35 since my first VFF Scholarship, and almost 40 of AHS membership, I look forward to seeing new technologies and new rotorcraft configurations with the same enthusiasm as in first grade.

If any of the members of the 1980 and 1982 VFF Scholarship selection committee happen to be reading these notes, I thank you for taking a chance on a student from another country, and hope with 35 years (and counting) of rotorcraft activity to have lived up to your trust and expectations. The monetary part of the VFF Scholarship is certainly very useful and greatly appreciated, but the pride and the sense of responsibility that comes from having been selected by the leaders of your profession is priceless for a young engineer at the very beginning of his or her career. We are a small, tight professional community with a common passion, almost like a family, and a VFF Scholarship — in 2015 as in 1980 — is a very special way to welcome a new member of the family.

James E. Harris

Engineering Manager, Control Systems Product Center,
Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems
1984 VFF Scholarship Winner

After completing a bachelor's degree in 1980, my plan was to work a few years and save enough money to be able to attend graduate school full-time. I wanted to concentrate fully on study and research and complete the degree in as little time as possible. After working three and a half years at Bell Helicopter, I took that leap in the fall of 1983, returning to Texas A&M University as a full-time graduate student. As a teaching and research assistant, the stipend was helpful, but the early 1980s were a time of high inflation and the savings account was beginning to dwindle. It looked as if I might cross the finish line just as the bank balance hit zero.

Midway through my graduate studies, Dr. Kenneth Korkan replaced a retiring member of my graduate advisory committee. Dr. Korkan introduced me to the VFF and suggested I apply for one of their scholarships. Although I had been a member of AHS since 1979, I was not familiar with the VFF. Needless to say, the financial boost that resulted from being awarded one of the VFF scholarships reduced the stress — financial and otherwise — allowing me to focus on completing my degree in the spring of 1985 and return to the work force. The VFF was instrumental in jump-starting my career in this unique and challenging industry.

Dr. Chengjian He

VP Research & Development
Advanced Rotorcraft Technology, Inc.
1987 and 1988 VFF Scholarship Winner

It has been almost 30 years since Prof. David A. Peters [then at the Georgia Institute of Technology] first introduced me to AHS; later, he and Prof. Daniel P. Schrage recommended me for a VFF scholarship. I recall the moment when I received the VFF scholarship award among the applause from hundreds of AHS members during the AHS Annual Forum banquet dinner. The scholarship not only gave me the opportunity to acquire what was then a state-of-the-art PC (which was a great help to my studies and earned the jealousy of many of my classmates), but also the warm support from the AHS community that accompanied me throughout my graduate studies at Georgia Tech.

I was so blessed with Prof. Peters as my PhD program advisor. Having the opportunity to work with him greatly enhanced my research interests in rotary-wing. His saying of “think differently” has constantly motivated me to explore frontier research and investigate innovative rotorcraft modeling analysis methods. During my PhD program, Prof. Peters and I formulated the unique Peters-He finite state rotor wake theory, which later found widespread applications in rotorcraft modeling and simulation.

After graduation, I worked at Georgia Tech as a research engineer on 2GCHAS development support and later at as a senior engineer on aircraft design optimization. I moved to California in the early 90s to work at Advanced Rotorcraft Technology and lead the research activity there for over 20 years. ART has dedicated all its talents to the development of state-of-the-art modeling and simulation tools (RCAS and FLIGHTLAB) for the rotorcraft community. I am so fortunate to be working with exceptional researchers and scientists at ART on challenging rotorcraft modeling problems, and always find the research and development process very rewarding. The satisfaction from working with rotorcraft lies in the fact that [the field] is never short of interesting problems to research and to solve.

Professor Swaminathan Karunamoorthy

St. Louis University
1982 VFF Scholarship Winner

I came to Washington University in St. Louis from India as a graduate student in 1981 to pursue my doctoral research in the area of Helicopter Dynamics with Professor David A. Peters. Immediately I became a student member of the American Helicopter Society. When I received the VFF scholarship in 1982, I felt proud and honored. Also I got great recognition when it was published in the university newspaper, The Record. It also really helped to balance the financial need. I pursued research on rotorcraft with Dr. Peters, even after graduation.

During my academic life as a professor [at St. Louis University], I developed and taught a course on Helicopter Theory, organized a student chapter of AHS and served as faculty advisor, mentored students in helicopter research, and also served as regional vice president of AHS [on its Board of Directors]. I encouraged my students to apply for VFF scholarship and I felt very proud when one of my students received the scholarship. It is a great catalyst for motivation and success in pursuing a career in the area of rotorcraft.

Daniel I. Newman

Senior Technical Fellow and Chief Engineer
Boeing's Phantom Works Advanced Vertical Lift Team
1988 VFF Scholarship Winner

To me, the VFF has represented vertical flight education, inspiration, recognition, exposure, research and collaboration. It has influenced and advanced my career in vertical flight research and development in many positive ways, large and small.

Looking at the significant waypoints in my career and the progress between — these are only clear looking back — I can see that the VFF is among the major contributing influences. My engineering journey began as a mechanical engineer in airframe design at Boeing Helicopters. The exposure to vertical flight capabilities and challenges inspired me toward further education, and with the support of the VFF, I pursued research in rotorcraft design under Prof. Gessow and Dr. Chopra at the new University of Maryland Rotorcraft Center of Excellence.

The list of my UMD teammates in the AHS Student Design Competition is a veritable who's who of our community's current leaders, including Chris Van Buiten, James Wang and Mike Torok. I later had the opportunity to mentor under industry giants like Frank Piasecki, John Schneider, Ray Prouty and Marat Tischenko. I have continued to be active throughout AHS on Technical Committees, on the Technical Council as a Deputy Technical Director and Technical Director, and now as VFF Scholarship Committee Chair. The VFF and my engagement with AHS ‎were catalysts for my rich vertical flight career spanning industry, academia and government service.

The product of the VFF is an educated and inspired vertical flight community. It demonstrates our industry's enthusiasm ‎for expanding the community and extending the breadth and the depth of knowledge and capability. I am very proud to be among the VFF Scholars.

Dr. Todd Quackenbush

Senior Associate
Continuum Dynamics, Inc.
1980, 1983, and 1985 VFF Scholarship Winner

I have been exceptionally fortunate in my association with the rotary wing field ever since I happened by one of the Army Aviation research labs while on a tour of NASA Ames in 1977 and thought "Hmm, you mean people actually work on helicopters full time?" I was lucky to have Jim Biggers as my first boss (and AHS membership sponsor) as a very green summer intern at Ames in 1979; lucky to work for Norm Ham in my time in graduate school at MIT; and most fortunate of all to work so many years with Pat Curtiss, first as a student at Princeton and then as a colleague.

Such teachers and mentors are invaluable in launching a career, but it goes without saying that you have to keep body and soul together while learning, and for this the Vertical Flight Foundation scholarships were a tremendous help. The material assistance these scholarships provided was clearly important to me during my time in training, but as much as that was the gratification of knowing that I was in the process of joining a community that cared enough about its growth and the nurturing of its next generation of scholars, researchers, and engineers to make this resource available. It has been a pleasure to see how the VFF has grown and extended its reach in recent years and to see how many of the awardees have gone on to contribute so much to the field. 

Ajay Sehgal

Chief Engineer, Systems
Wyle Aerospace Group
1978 VFF Scholarship Winner

I have been an AHS member since 1978 when I was a graduate student at Georgia Tech. I was able to tap into a wealth of technical information through the AHS Journal, AHS’s scientific and technical publication. I was also fortunate to receive a VFF scholarship in 1978. It meant a lot to me for number of reasons; namely, it brought recognition among peers and faculty I was working with, it provided visibility for future networking opportunities within the rotorcraft industry, and above all, provided financial assistance during the time when it meant the most. It provided the initial impetus I needed to be able to follow my passion and dream of pursuing a career in this ever-challenging field of rotary wing.

I have been actively engaged with the rotary wing industry for over 35 years, have published a number of technical papers, and hold several US and international patents on rotor systems. Throughout my career, I have been associated with AHS International in more than one way: from a regular member to a chapter officer to a member of the AHS Board of Directors; and from a session chair in an Annual Forum to a chairman of a technical committee. I have found my involvement with AHS to be personally and professionally rewarding and an excellent way to stay up to date with industry, academic and DoD activities.

Professor Edward Smith

Director, Penn State Vertical Lift Research Center,
Pennsylvania State University
1988, 1989, and 1990 VFF Scholarship Winner

As a graduating senior at [The Pennsylvania State University], I had the opportunity to first learn about rotary wing aircraft from Prof. Barnes McCormick’s class. He encouraged me to apply for a Vertical Flight Fellowship as I prepared to enter the University of Maryland’s Rotorcraft Center program the following summer. I will always remember attending the AHS Forums and receiving the VFF Awards on stage. It was both humbling, and inspiring, to be recognized at a meeting amongst all the technical experts and leaders in the vertical flight community. VFF awards, along with mentorship of Profs. Inderjit Chopra and Al Gessow helped fuel my passion for rotorcraft technology, and develop my confidence as a young engineer. Attending the AHS Forums, I was able to build friendships with people of several generations. I quickly understood that my professional home would be in the field of vertical flight! I’ve been delighted to be able to engage a new generation of students in the AHS mission once I embarked on an academic career path back at Penn State. Year after year, for more than 25 years, I have been able to witness first hand the value of the Vertical Flight Foundation in building the future of our industry.

Dr. Marc Takahashi

Senior Engineer, U.S. Army Aviation Development Directorate
Moffett Field, California, USA
1986 and 1987 VFF Scholarship Winner

When I received the Vertical Flight Foundation scholarship, I was starting the research phase of my doctoral work at UCLA under Prof. Friedmann.  By that time, I had come to realize that vertical lift research, due to the particular complexities of vehicles, had many interesting avenues I could pursue. I was also recently married and had been living in Los Angeles and was still adjusting to the significantly higher cost of living than what I was accustom to during my undergraduate days in Cincinnati. So, I very much appreciated receiving the award to support me financially, and, just as importantly, to allow me to see that the vertical lift industry knew how important it was to support graduate students in its technical area. The award definitely contributed to my interesting and diverse engineering career, and ultimately landed me in my current position working on rotorcraft autonomous flight research. It’s always a pleasure to see the many enthusiastic VFF winners when I attend the AHS Annual Forum, and to know it will help them in their engineering careers. So, congratulation to future winners and to the AHS in supporting this scholarship over the years.

Dr. Michael S. Torok

VP 53K Programs, Sikorsky, A Lockheed-Martin Company
Stratford, Connecticut, USA
1987 VFF Scholarship Winner

I came to be involved in helicopters by accident. I was completing my undergraduate degree at Cornell and considering getting a master's degree, so I pulled out some information my older brother had given me when he went through the same process a few years earlier. Among the many papers was some information about a University of Maryland electrical engineering program. That led to my discovery of the US Army Rotorcraft Fellowships and the fantastic program and faculty at Maryland. I was selected for the fellowship and, after having spent t he four prior years in the cold of upstate New York, an all-expense paid trip to the warmer climes of Maryland, combined with a chance to study something very cool — helicopters — was too much to pass up.

I arrived and was immediately introduced to AHS by Prof. Inderjit Chopra. I began a 30-year (and counting) attendance streak [to the AHS Annual Forum] with but a handful of exceptions. The AHS Forum offers an incredible window into a tight-knit community of exceptional technical professionals. I met people whose work I was studying and learning from — and ultimately built on. I've now surpassed 30 years as an AHS member and looking back I realize even more today what an opportunity AHS presented, including lifelong friends and colleagues that have provided great context for my career here at Sikorsky and in the larger rotorcraft community. 

I had gone to Maryland with just a master's degree in mind. In 1987, I was fortunate enough to be selected for a Vertical Flight Foundation scholarship. As I was evaluating options to continue school or enter the workforce, this additional financial boost allowed me to continue on in school to my PhD, while balancing my financial needs at the time — including buying an engagement ring for my (now) wife! That decision expanded my growth and experiences, and formed the foundation of my entire career at Sikorsky in the helicopter business. I've been involved in advanced technologies, computer simulations and experimental test programs; I've led engineering functional organizations and served as chief engineer for military, international, development and production programs. And now I've had the opportunity to lead the development of the all-new CH-53K program for the US Marine Corps — both as chief engineer and now as program manager. AHS, the University of Maryland and VFF all played key roles — and that is NO accident.

Dr. William Warmbrodt

Chief of the Aeromechanics Branch, NASA Ames Research Center
Moffett Field, California, USA
Inaugural 1977 and 1978 VFF Scholarship Winner

I have been an AHS member since 1976 and was very fortunate to receive financial support from the Vertical Flight Foundation during my graduate studies at UCLA. I recall attending seminars and short courses taught at UCLA by Bob Wood, Ray Prouty, Dewey Hodges, Norm Ham and many others. I was educated, mentored, inspired, and motivated by each and by my thesis advisor Peretz Friedmann.

I have been very fortunate in my career in rotorcraft R&D at NASA Ames Research Center in California. I have worked and collaborated with the other NASA aeronautics centers, the U.S. Army and every other service of DOD, U.S. industry, the best professors and universities in the United States and abroad, as well as manufacturers and national laboratories from other nations.

The VFF support played no small role in opening my eyes and career to vertical lift. It remains an honor to contribute to the nation’s goals in rotary wing technology on a daily basis. And the personal relationships and friendships established and enabled, in large part through the activities of the AHS, are truly valued and cherished.