Plane taking off
Sunday, March 17, 2024

The sky is no limit for aeronautics research

by Anika

Ottawa is renowned for being home to the world’s largest skating rink, the Rideau Canal Skateway; the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum; and the National Research Council (NRC). On January 29 of this year, I was finally able to travel to Ottawa and cross the NRC off my checklist.

Anika and Cap Students at NRC

Front row, from left: CAP students Artem, Allison, Wendy, Xin and Anika. Back row, from left: Sion Jennings, Shi Cao.

I was very fortunate to be among a group of graduate students from the Collaborative Aeronautics Program (CAP) at the University of Waterloo invited on a tour of the NRC. During the tour what I found most fascinating was the Flight Research Laboratory hangar – particularly seeing NRC’s research aircraft fleet, including the Twin Otter and the Falcon 20. The latter has been modified for reduced gravity flight to support projects such as the Canadian Reduced Gravity Experiment Design Challenge (CAN-RGX). As part of the CAN-RGX competition, postsecondary students in Canada get to design and test a small scientific experiment on board the Falcon 20, which is pretty amazing!

We also had the opportunity to see the Hybrid-Electric Aircraft Propulsion Testbed (HEAT), a converted Cessna 337 Skymaster, with its rear turboprop engine replaced by an electric motor powered by batteries. HEAT is currently being used to develop and validate electrified propulsion systems. It reminded me of the Pipistrel Velis Electro, the world’s first type-certified electric training aircraft, which we have here in the Waterloo region thanks to a partnership between the Waterloo Wellington Flight Centre, the Region of Waterloo International Airport and the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Aeronautics (WISA).

As someone interested in pilot training and education, I was really excited to see NRC’s cutting-edge airborne simulator. We also visited the 9 m wind tunnel, which is essentially a large tube with air moving inside that researchers use to simulate the motion of objects in flight. Along with visiting state-of-the-art facilities, we had the opportunity to learn about NRC’s autonomous flight systems research including their pioneering Canadian vertical lift autonomy demonstration (CVLAD) system, developed to demonstrate supervised autonomous capabilities for full-scale vertical lift aircraft.

Apart from learning about research being undertaken at NRC, we also had the chance to share our own research and receive feedback from NRC researchers, which I am confident will be very valuable to reflect on as we each continue with our graduate studies.

In its entirety, visiting the NRC was a personally meaningful and inspiring experience. On behalf of the visiting group, I would like to thank my supervisor and CAP Committee Chair, Dr. Shi Cao, and WISA for making this tour possible. I would also like to thank Mr. Sion Jennings, Senior Research Officer at the NRC, for hosting us. I look forward to more transformative experiences, not only for us – the first and second cohorts of CAP students – but also for CAP students who will come after us. The sky is truly no limit for aeronautics research, and what an exciting time to be a part of it!

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