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Meet: Larry A. Young

a photo of larry

Aeromechanics Research Engineer
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

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What I Do
I am an aerospace engineer at NASA Ames Research Center. I am proud to be a part of the first 'A' in NASA: Aeronautics. I specialize in rotorcraft aeromechanics research. Aeromechanics research is the study of the aerodynamics, dynamics, and mechanical aspects of helicopters and tiltrotor aircraft. I have two engineering degrees: a bachelor's and a master's degree in mechanical engineering. I have had many rotorcraft research assignments during my career at Ames. I am currently leading several advanced aerial vehicle technology efforts at NASA Ames, including the study of vertical lift planetary aerial vehicles (aircraft that fly in the atmosphere's of other planets), and Mars rotorcraft in particular. I am also the Project Manager for the "BEES for Mars" demonstration effort which is investigating bio-inspired and information technologies to enable these aerial explorers to autonomously fly on those other planets. A project manager is a combination coach/quarterback for a large team of engineering/technical professionals.

I was project manager for the Tilt Rotor Aeroacoustic Model (TRAM) project. A tiltrotor is an airplane with large "propellers" (called rotors or proprotors) that can tilt from vertical to horizontal. A tiltrotor can hover like a helicopter when the proprotors are tilted vertical and can fly at high speed (350 miles per hour) when tilted forward horizontally. In comparison, the best helicopter in the world only fly around 220 miles per hour (most fly around 150 mph). Commercial airliner jets can fly much faster than a tiltrotor but can't hover. Commercial airliners, therefore, need a lot of airport/runway space.

The TRAM project is attempting to understand how to make tiltrotor aircraft as quiet as possible so that people will be willing to let them fly close to, and maybe even into, their communities. The hope is that one day tiltrotors can reduce the growing congestion at our country's airports so that costly and controversial new or expanded airports don't have to be built. Further, tiltrotor aircraft technology is what I call an "empowering" technology. Small communities (or undeveloped countries) that aren't big enough to have their own commercial airliner airports -- and whose citizens have to travel quite a distance to get to such an airport -- could instead have a small "vertiport" where tiltrotor aircraft could fly in and out of. Transportation has historically empowered communities' economies, keeping them healthy and growing. The tiltrotor aircraft will hopefully be able to do that for our communities. But, as noted earlier, it is very important to try making tiltrotors as quiet as possible to make them friendly to our communities. And that is what I am trying do -- with a lot other people helping. I think it is a maxim that "one person's problem is another person's reason for being an engineer."

In addition to my duties as TRAM Project Manager, I personally conduct analytical work (think lots and lots of mathematics) in aeromechanics -- particularly in rotor aerodynamics area.

How I Knew I Wanted to Be an Engineer & How I Got There
When I was quite young I walked by myself to our town's library for the first time. It was my first true act of independence as a child. It was almost like magic being among all those books. I had, of course, seen and read books in elementary school, but this was different somehow. I can still remember peeking my way around those stacks of books, smelling that wonderful book smell (especially, the old books). My world became much larger than my small home town that day. I became "larger" that day.

When I was a little older I remember "inventing" things in my grandfather's workshop. I went through a lot of nails and wood but that was about it as far as coming up with anything practical. I read popular biographies of Thomas Alva Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park. The man, who even as a boy, lived a great life.

When I was in fifth grade I visited an aunt's house and casually picked up a cousin's eighth grade algebra textbook -- and didn't put it down again for the whole visit. The fact that mathematics was so much more than arithmetic was astounding and totally unexpected. In seventh grade and, then again, in high school I had two teachers who helped foster my love of mathematics and my independence of thought in its study and application: Mr. Jones and Mr. Sharratt.

Washington State has incredible natural beauty. My love of science - - and particularly the unpredictable but beautiful patterns and motion of water and wind -- was fostered by afternoon and weekend explorations with my grandmother and brother. I also gained during these explorations an appreciation of form and function as evidenced by nature. I recommend contemplating pieces of drift wood or an interesting rock formation on a regular basis. It is amazing how the form and function of nature finds its way into technology.

In addition to my love of science and technology, the importance of learning in general was reinforced and strengthened by many kind teachers -- in particular, Mrs. McCracken. It is not enough to know only one thing really well, it is important to learn as many things as possible.

In high school, I took a college prepatory aptitude test required by the state. In it, I showed a strong -- and not surprising -- interest and aptitude in science. Surprising in retrospect, though, was that I didn't score all that well in engineering aptitude -- at least according to the test. When I entered college I placed high on an advanced placement chemistry exam and entered an honors chemistry program. But three factors caused me to revise my thinking as to a college major, even in that first freshman semester. First, I found that, though I liked the theoretical aspects of chemistry, I was very bad in the lab/experiment portion of the class. Second, my family didn't have a lot of money when I grew up (I went to college on scholarships, loans, and other financial aid) and I had to consider practical compromises in the number of years of education to get a degree that would land me a professional-level job. Third, and finally, the fantasies from early childhood of being an "inventor" were unshakable. And so, the second semester of my freshman year, I switched majors to mechanical engineering -- and I have been happy in my profession ever since.

How I Joined NASA
I was born in 1958 -- the same year NASA was started. I grew up in a small town called Anacortes, which lies on Fidalgo Island, in the Puget Sound, in Washington State. I can still remember vividly when, at age eleven, I watched on TV the landing of the Apollo 11 lunar module Eagle on the Moon's surface on July 20, 1969. At age 12, as a part of a school project, I wrote away to NASA for informational/educational pamphlets. I received a large bulky package of reading materials from an Ames Research Center, in Moffett Field, CA. I must have read every one those pamphlets a dozen times. I still have them today -- in their original manila envelope -- on my bookshelf at home. The Center Director of Ames Research Center at the time was a Dr. Hans Mark. Dr. Mark was instrumental in initiating tiltrotor research within NASA.

Time passed and I graduated from Washington State University (WSU). Before leaving WSU I turned to the Career Placement Center on the campus to find a job. Incredibly, the same semester I was graduating, a NASA employee on a rare recruitment drive to WSU was interviewing students for possible engineering positions. I got an interview with him but, I must confess, I didn't think I made that good of an impression. A couple of months passed, the semester was over, and I was back home in Anacortes with my master's in mechanical engineering degree. Needing to pay my school bills -- and not hearing anything from NASA -- I made my choice from the three job offers I had received. But, just as I was about to accept that offer, I got a call from NASA Ames Research Center. And so, for the past fifteen years, I have been a research engineer at Ames. The same Ames Research Center that I wrote to when I was in elementary school.

Where, while at Ames, I have performed tiltrotor aircraft aeronautics research -- a continuation of the work started by Dr. Hans Mark, when he was Center Director, when I wrote to NASA as a school project.

Personal Interests
I like to travel. Prior to going to college I lived all my life in Skagit County in Washington State. So, after college, I made a list of all the places in the world I'd like to see. Slowly, but surely, I and my wife Stephanie have gone to many of those places: Greece, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Brazil, Turkey. Next on my list is Australia and Japan, which I will visit in 1998.

I still read extensively. In particular, for recreational reading, I read a lot of science fiction. I've kept every single one of the SF books I've ever bought. I started collecting books when I was about twelve or thirteen. I therefore own hundreds of books.

I like being on, or near, the water -- whether it is swimming or boating. One of my favorite activities when I was a kid was taking a row boat out alone on a lake that my grandparents had a cabin on. I also like to take long walks.

I like all kinds of music: classical, jazz, pop, and even heavy metal. Music both relaxes me and fills me with energy when I'm doing work that doesn't require too much concentration.

My wife Stephanie and I go to a lot of museums, plays, the symphony, and the ballet. When I was in junior high on a school trip, I went to see my first professionally produced play. It was amazing. I was instantly hooked for life.

And, finally, engineering is not only my job, it is in many ways my hobby as well. The creative/intellectual process as applied to engineering is personally, as well as professionally, very satisfying. So, I spend a lot of my personal time "doing" engineering. That is perhaps the hallmark of being an engineer or a scientist -- it is not just a job it is, to a large degree, who you are.

Archived Chats

a photo of the Tram project team
(That's me, second from the left, leaning back. This large group of people is actually only a small fraction of the people who work on the TRAM project.)


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