Vertical Flight Foundation Scholarships

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Kanika Gakhar

Texas A&M University College Station

Kanika Gakhar is an Undergraduate Research Assistant in the Advanced Vertical Flight Lab at Texas A&M University. She is currently working on conducting experiments to improve the performance of a flapping-wing, hover-capable, meso-scale Robotic Hummingbird. Kanika was named as ‘Honorable Mention’ by the National Goldwater Scholarship Committee for her research work in the Advanced Vertical Flight Lab. She co-authored a paper for the AHS Forum and won second place for presenting her research at Student Research Week. Kanika also makes an impact on campus as a University Scholar and University Innovation Fellow by spreading her love for learning and working on revolutionary projects. As Vice-President of the Aerospace Engineering National Honor Society, Sigma Gama Tau, she plans to initiate service projects targeted towards helping underprivileged children and under-developed educational institutions become more involved in the latest aerospace projects. She is also a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers Aero Design Team, which is an organization that designs, builds, and flies a radio-controlled aircraft at an international competition every year. Next year, she will be serving as the Stability and Controls Team Lead for this organization. She is very passionate about dancing and is currently a performer for two dance teams: Texas A&M Belly Dance Association and Philsa Modern Hip-Hop Dance Team. She has served as President of Lambda Sigma Sophomore Honors Society and Director of Focus Groups for the MSC Fall Leadership Conference.

How did you get interested in vertical flight?

"As I walked by the Advanced Vertical Flight Lab, I heard a strange buzzing sound. Out of curiosity, I took a few steps back and peeped inside. There, hovering in the middle of the lab, was a small piece of machinery propelling itself upward with the help of high frequency flapping wings. It was a Robotic Hummingbird! Right from designing my own experimental setup to exploring testing opportunities for various performance parameters, I thoroughly enjoyed stepping outside my comfort zone and working on improving the efficiency of the robotic hummingbird. Spending endless hours next to a setup that mimics a hummingbird’s flapping motion reminded me of how close we were to understanding the aero-elastic relationship between the shape of the wing and the interdependent aerodynamics associated with it. This helped me realize that I wanted to engage in challenging projects and help contribute towards engineering tools for scientific discovery. Moreover, I was so inspired by this research experience that I decided to encourage other students to engage in undergraduate research. As an Undergraduate Research Ambassador and Executive Leader for Council of Undergraduate Research in Engineering (CURE), I currently work on helping students gain valuable research experience."

What impact has receiving the VFF scholarship had for you?

"At the age of sixteen, I was fortunate enough to be one among the top nine students in India to be selected as a Global Indian Scholar; I was granted the opportunity to complete my high school while doing the International Baccalaureate on full scholarship in Singapore. This humbling experience not only gave me global exposure but also reminded me that I could help my parents by choosing to be financially independent. Since then, I have worked day and night to create a path that helps me support myself while I chase after my dreams of changing the world. Having recently moved to the United States, I am taking my first steps towards helping my parents build a new home and a new life. The VFF Scholarship is taking me one step further and helping me lay the foundation of my career in a field that is constantly growing and changing. Receiving the Bell Helicopter Scholarship has been a humbling reminder of the appreciation the AHS community has for aspiring engineers like me. I am very grateful to AHS for introducing me to this opportunity and giving me a chance to refine and present my research work to the prestigious VFF Committee. By encouraging young undergraduate researchers like me to pursue topics of interest in the field of vertical take-off and lift, the VFF Scholarship committee is truly doing a remarkable job at helping students recognize their passions and the significance of their work in a global research community."

What are some of your current projects or research interests?

"The purpose of my current independent research is to exploit the unsteady aerodynamic phenomena associated with nature-inspired flapping-wing mechanisms at low Reynolds numbers to achieve performance (agility, endurance, maneuverability, gust tolerance, forward speed) that would surpass any of the existing small-scale flying vehicles. This project focuses on developing, optimizing, and improving the efficiency of the current flapping-wing, hover-capable, meso-scale robotic hummingbird. To achieve this goal, experiments are being targeted towards understanding the fundamental aeromechanics of flexible flapping wings operating at high flapping frequencies/amplitudes. The ultimate goal of the project is to understand and demonstrate the robotic hummingbird’s superior performance through systematic flight testing in cluttered indoor environments and gusty outdoor scenarios."

This robotic hummingbird, developed at the Advanced Vertical Flight Lab at Texas A&M University, is capable of controlled, hovering flight.

Tell us about your future plans.

In the future, I plan to continue working towards revolutionizing the field of bio-inspired, vertical flight vehicles that are highly capable of search and rescue as well as providing disaster relief. Ultimately, I believe that my pioneering spirit, sprinkled with creativity and a zest for physics, can help me create innovative aerial vehicles to overcome the biggest challenges in vertical flight by making biomimetic vehicles more efficient, environmentally friendly, and maneuverable.

What do Kanika's mentors have to say?

"Kanika approached me during her sophomore year and she said she would like to work on one of the novel VTOL concepts we were developing at the Advanced Vertical Flight Lab; she was specifically interested in the robotic hummingbird project. Since then she has been working with me in my group and has made enormous progress in less than an year's time; some of her results will be presented at the 2017 AHS Forum. I have also taught her in a junior level class. She is one of the most passionate and enthusiastic students I have met, and it is incredible how she manages her time between her academics, research and extracurricular activities and does an excellent job with everything. She plans to continue working in our lab on novel bio-inspired flying concepts and pursue a PhD focused on the development of revolutionary VTOL concepts that could pave the way for the next generation of flying cars and personal air vehicles in the future."

Prof. Moble Benedict
Texas A&M University

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