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Meet Gloria Yamauchi


Aerospace Engineer

Chat Archives

My job title is Aerospace Engineer. I conduct research in rotor aerodynamics and acoustics. The objectives of my work are to understand the flow environment of rotor blades, which in turn help me understand why rotors perform the way, they do and why they make so much noise.

A rotor blade is sort of like a skinny, twisted wing that rotates very fast. As a result of rotation, the wake from a rotor blade looks like a Slinky, which is very different and much more complicated than the wake from a regular airplane wing. Understanding how the rotor wake is formed and how the wake interacts with other rotor blades or parts of the helicopter is a very complicated problem.

To study the rotor wake, I sometimes run large computer programs, which simulate the airflow around the blades. I also participate in wind tunnel and flight tests where the rotor loads and noise are measured. By studying computational results and experimental measurements, I try to determine what is happening in the flow field and whether the rotor noise can be reduced and performance improved through design changes or operational changes.

My Career Path
When I was in high school, I decided I wanted to work for NASA and become an astronaut. After graduating from college with a BS in Mechanical Engineering, I got a job at NASA Ames Research Center. I was assigned to a group doing research in helicopters. At the time, I thought I would stay with the helicopter group for a few years and then transfer to an organization within NASA that did space-related research. Well, that was back in 1982, and 20 years later I am still working on helicopters and more specifically, tilt rotors.

Tilt rotors are vehicles that can take off vertically and hover like a helicopter and, by tilting their rotors forward like a propeller, fly like an airplane. Since rotorcraft (helicopters, tilt rotors) research is multi-disciplinary, I required additional classes in math, dynamics, aerodynamics, and structures. I went to school part time at Stanford while working at Ames and earned my M.S. and eventually my Ph.D. Rotorcraft research turned out to be very challenging for me, and I am still learning.

Why I Like My Job
Working at NASA Ames can be very exciting because there is so much going on around the center. There are many different people doing different types of research using world-class facilities. The opportunity to learn and improve your skills is always available.

As a Child
I can't think of anything specifically that I did as a kid that prepared me for the work I do now. I've always loved Star Trek and other sci-fi TV shows, and I often envisioned myself traveling around in outer space, which motivated me to work for NASA.

If you think you want to become an aerospace engineer, I suggest taking lots of math classes. Classes in physics, computer science, dynamics and aerodynamics are also very important. Don't let these classes intimidate you if you study hard and do your best, you will succeed. Remember: a good engineer doesn't give up when faced with a difficult problem!

I think having a mentor or someone I could talk to about different career choices would have helped me a lot when I was growing up. I did not know what I wanted to do until late in high school, and I was not aware of the variety of careers that were available. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend getting a mentor.

I was born and raised in Sacramento, California. After finishing high school, I went to college at Cornell University in upstate New York. This was a very big change for me since I did not know anybody in New York, and the weather was so different than in Sacramento. Over the next four years, I met a lot of nice people and made some very good friends. I returned to California after college and started working at Ames in the summer of 1982. I like playing golf and basketball. I also enjoy hiking, surf fishing, and fly fishing very much. I have been happily married since 1988 and in January 2000 we had our first child. Being a parent is the toughest job I've ever had, but also the most rewarding. We are looking forward to many fun years ahead with our daughter.


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