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Meet: Chris Lockwood


Lead Engineer of the Balance Calibration Laboratory
Ames Research Center

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My Job

I work with a team of engineers that calibrate all the balances internal for the models in the wind tunnels test. The balance is a device that sits on the end of a long rod, a "sting", that holds the model upstream in the tunnel. This support structure is down stream so that it doesn't interfere with breeze flowing over the model. The balance is cylindrically shaped, and fits into a hole in model. Once installed a pin is pressed in and keeps the model from slipping or spinning on the balance. The balance is calibrated prior to the wind tunnel test, by applying very accurate loads to the balance, and recording the electrical signals that come from the balance.

The electrical signals correspond to the load that is applied. Any push or pull or twist, caused by the wind during the test, can be measured. These are the aerodynamic forces that would cause an airplane to shift up or to the side or rotate in any direction, during flight. Finding out what the wind does to a model before you spend the money to actually built an airplane, is the goal of a wind tunnel test.

There are four of us in the lab and we work as a team to get these instruments prepared for a test. The data that we provide is the foundation for any wind tunnel test that uses an internal strain gage balance. We are responsible for insuring that all the loads that are going to the balance are measured accurately, that we process the data and provide the equations that allow the wind tunnel engineers determine what is actually happening to the model.

We usually meet with the principal investigators or the test engineers that are responsible for completing the test. It is important to them to get accurate data. Most of contribution occurs prior to a test.


My Career Path

After receiving a Mechanical Engineering degree from the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. I was interested in marine engineering and naval architecture. I went to work at the naval shipyard in Vallejo, California which was a naval submarine overhaul facility. I decided that wasn't quite the industry I was interested in. The submarine industry was relatively mature and it didn't offer the opportunities I was seeking. I do quite a bit of sailing which involves both aerodynamics and hydrodynamics. I decided to look in a career in wind tunnel testing. Working here has been interesting so far. It's closely related to the things I like to do in my free time.

I sail very large boats down to two person small boats. I do a lot of racing. This year I did a distance race from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. A friend and I are also preparing for a race from San Francisco to Hawaii in a 24 foot boat. I've been sailing since age 8. My dad and I built my first boat. Most of the sailing that I did was in Morro Bay. In college I was on the sailing team and taught sailing in the summer. After I had worked here for a few years I took a year off and went sailing down to the Sea of Cortez and west coast of Mexico; and I spent some time traveling to other countries too.


What I Like About My Job

This career offers a lot of opportunities for exposure to state of the art equipment and to wind tunnel testing. I find the models, and wind tunnels them selves fascinating. This industry however, is also mature. But some exciting things are happening with comparisons of experimental (wind tunnel) testing and computer simulations.


As a Child

I grew up in Ridgecrest China Lake, a naval weapons center just north of Edwards Air Force Base in California Mojave desert. For the first fifteen years of my life I remember F4 Phantoms flying overhead and making sonic booms and rattling all the windows in the house. My dad was a physicist. He did ordinance work (he blew-up things). A lot of the kids I went to school with had parents who were fighter pilots. There were experimental aircraft tests of X-15's. My dad took us out to the supersonic rocket powered rail used for measuring G forces. We also went out to the landing strip to watch the Blue Angels perform every year.



Read all you can about what interests you. If it's aeronautics and aerodynamics, find out what aspects interest you. Read about test pilots of the 1960's, and more recent pioneers of flight like Burt and Dick Rattan. If you like computers read about computational fluid dynamics and simulations. Then you can find the kind of companies and the kind of work you would like to do and which schools can help you prepare. There are opportunities other than NASA as well. Companies like Aerovironment, which made the Pathfinder and other very unconventional, and remotely controlled aircraft.



I have a very good friend that I met in college. He and I sail together often. We challenge and support each other as peers on all aspects of life: professional, mental, social, etc. I've gained a great deal from this friendship. I would say seek this kind relationship and work to hold up your end.


Future Goal

I plan to continue doing work that relates to my outside interests. This keeps me excited about it and I think that's important.



I enjoy being outside. I play a lot of Ultimate Frisbee. It's a fantastic sport (which happens to involve a lot of aerodynamics). I have two small birds that own my house. They are small parrots from Africa and have large egos.

Archived Chats with Chris Lockwood


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