Honeywell International has donated two turbofan aircraft engines commonly found on the Learjet 31, Cessna Citation III, and Dassault Falcon 900, allowing Virginia Tech students and faculty to pursue exclusive research and experience valuable hands-on learning.

Through instrumentation techniques developed solely by researchers in the TurboLab at Virginia Tech, the Honeywell TFE731-2 business jet engines, worth approximately $1.5 million, will be used to develop new aerodynamic technologies, targeting Honeywell’s strategic areas of discovery that could impact manufacturing of engines for commercial and military aircraft.

“We are grateful for industry partners like Honeywell. Because of their generous donation, our students and faculty are able to conduct cutting-edge propulsion research that is entirely exclusive,” said Walter O’Brien, the J. Bernard Jones Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Turbolab at Virginia Tech. “Together with Honeywell, through innovative research, we are able to educate the best and the brightest engineers, innovators, and scientists while advancing technology and addressing critical aeronautical challenges.”

Next-generation commercial airframes feature architectures that produce non-uniform (distorted) airflows that compromise engine performance. Justin Bailey, of Greenville, South Carolina, and Dylan Dawson, of Henrico, Virginia, both mechanical engineering students and research assistants in the lab, will lead the initial research, designed to measure the engines’ response to distorted inflows.

Honeywell 12/14 passenger jet engine, Research, Detail

Honeywell TFE731 engine
The first Honeywell TFE731 aircraft engine was certified in 1972. Since that time, 13,000 units of 20 different models have been produced. They have logged an astounding 100 million plus hours of service in more than 30 different aircraft applications.

Bailey and researchers will build onto the patented StreamVane technology developed by O’Brien and members of the lab team. The StreamVane device is a 3-D printed distorted airflow producer — a much faster and cost-effective method of creating specific distortion patterns without having to fabricate the airframe or inlet that generates it.

“This is the first time we have collaborated directly with an engine manufacturer wanting to look at the inlet distortion problem from a fundamental perspective and learn how their engines respond to given distortion patterns,” said Bailey. “Honeywell understands that the future of commercial aviation will present new challenges to their current product line and is investing in research efforts to develop distortion tolerant engines that can operate in various environments."

After earning his bachelor’s degree from Clemson University, Bailey chose to pursue a graduate education in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech because of the applied research capabilities with aircraft engines led by turbomachinery and aerodynamics experts O’Brien and Todd Lowe, associate professor aerospace and ocean engineering and assistant director of the TurboLab.

In 2014 Bailey completed his masters in mechanical engineering as an advisee of Virginia Tech professors Clinton Dancey, Al Wicks, and O’Brien. Almost simultaneously, Bailey began his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering with research focus on engine inlet flow distortion research, also one of Honeywell’s strategic design focuses.

Earlier this year Bailey visited Honeywell in Phoenix, Arizona, to observe testing facilities and operations in hopes of duplicating the same performance criteria on the donated aircraft engines back at the Virginia Tech Blacksburg airport lab.

“The Honeywell engines present a new challenge for our team. We have constructed engine research rigs before, so we have applicable experience,” said Bailey. “But, the scope is larger than anything we have completed previously and that’s what makes working at this lab so exciting. For an experimental researcher, this is the type of project you want to work on.”

Donating the engines to the College of Engineering was a passion project for Hokie Jim Ericksen, project engineer at Honeywell's aerospace division in Phoenix.

The two engines were originally used in a training program that was discontinued in the mid-90s. While the engines were relatively new — by engine life standards — they were no longer in Honeywell’s inventory as company assets and unable to be sold to customers.

Ericksen tested the engines and created a “turnkey” start-up package with training materials and identified collaborative research to help fund the project. Fellow Hokies and Honeywell project managers — Joe Howard, a mechanical engineering graduate, and Gary Cosgriff, aerospace and ocean engineer graduate — and members of the greater Honeywell team worked with Ericksen to create the research package.

Ericksen, a mechanical engineering graduate, returns to the Blacksburg campus often, serving as the campus manager and recruiter for his alma mater for the past 15 years. Ericksen and Honeywell leadership continue to be impressed with the quality of purpose-driven education Virginia Tech students receive and the top research development.

“For the last 20 years Honeywell has been actively recruiting Virginia Tech graduates with continued success,” said Bob Smith, chief technology officer and vice president of engineering and technology at Honeywell Aerospace. “The donation will strengthen our partnership, enhance the ability of the student to have applicable knowledge-based experiences, and foster the development of skilled workers.”

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