seal  Purdue News

September 4, 2003

Purdue rolls out Rolls-Royce research center

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University and Rolls-Royce today (Thursday, 9/4) formally kicked off their joint University Technology Center, an alliance in which researchers will work to improve jet engines and develop propulsion technologies for planes that may fly up to seven times the speed of sound.

Purdue, Rolls-Royce kick off
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Top Rolls-Royce executives and Purdue officials were on hand for the 11:30 a.m. event at the recently renovated High Pressure Laboratory, one of six School of Mechanical Engineering facilities at the Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories. Engineers working within the complex of labs, located west of campus, perform propulsion-related research in rockets, jet turbines and other internal combustion engines.

"Thanks to support from Rolls-Royce and funding from Indiana's 21st Century Research and Technology Fund, the High Pressure Lab is now one of the nation's best places for research that will ultimately help engineers create superior aircraft and spacecraft," said Purdue Provost Sally Mason.

"In the process, we are training a new generation of engineers for the aviation and aerospace industries."

Mason told the gathering of about 100 people that such university-industry partnerships represent a trend and that such alliances are likely to become more common in the future.

"They are absolutely vital to the economic development of our state," she said.

Mike Howse, director of engineering and technology for Rolls-Royce PLC in Great Britain, toured the High Pressure Lab and other facilities and later delivered the fifth annual William E. Boeing Distinguished Lecture, sponsored by the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Rolls-Royce employs about 500 Purdue alumni at its Indianapolis facilities, Howse said, adding that the university "forms a part of what you might call the fabric of Rolls-Royce."

Rolls-Royce has about 4,400 employees in Indianapolis, primarily at a research and development facility and a main production plant. Purdue graduates represent the largest segment of the company's work force in North America.

"Rolls-Royce and Purdue are certainly doing their part to stem the brain drain of Indiana's most intelligent, talented young people," said one of those Purdue alumni, Ron York, who is chief operating officer of the Allison Advanced Development Co., the research and development subsidiary of Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis. "We are trying to both ensure the future health of our high-technology business in the state and also provide an attractive research and employment opportunity to keep the best and brightest engineers in the state."

The center will help Purdue meet research and educational goals that call for engagement with Indiana industries for collaborations that help the state's economy by creating new high-technology jobs, said Linda P.B. Katehi, the John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering at Purdue.

Purdue earlier this summer completed major renovations to the High Pressure Lab, a one-of-a-kind propulsion facility, and has begun full-scale laboratory testing in research that includes work to develop engines for NASA's next-generation space shuttle. Engineers working in the laboratory will perform research sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, U.S. Air Force and Army, other federal agencies and aerospace companies, said Stephen Heister, a professor in Purdue's School of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Purdue began rebuilding the lab two years ago, when it received a $1 million, two-year grant from the 21st Century fund, established by the state to promote high-tech research and development and to help commercialize innovations.

By establishing a Rolls-Royce University Technology Center at Zucrow Laboratories, the company and Purdue will work jointly in research to study the behavior of jet fuels at the high temperature and pressure required for "high-Mach propulsion" aircraft, which will fly from three to seven times the speed of sound – or as fast as 5,000 miles per hour. Researchers also will focus on creating a new class of fuel injectors for jet engines.

Rolls-Royce has 20 university technology centers – 19 in the United Kingdom and one in Sweden. The company also has strategic relationships with eight other universities, as well as with the German Aerospace Research Establishment. However, this is the company's first center in the United States.

"Purdue was selected because of its high-quality research facilities and large number of graduates in close proximity to our Indianapolis location," said York, who earned a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue in 1973 and a master's degree in 1969. "The company and Purdue have a strong track record of working together."

York is one of about 20 members of Purdue's Mechanical Engineering Industrial Advisory Council, which makes recommendations about research directions and educational methods.

Rolls-Royce will benefit from the skilled faculty, students and staff and laboratory facilities of the various departments at Purdue, while the company will provide technical oversight and financial support, enhancing current research projects and educational goals at Purdue, Heister said.

Engineers in the Rolls-Royce center will be led by Heister and Sanford Fleeter, Purdue's McAllister Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

"The Zucrow Labs has been a national propulsion asset since the 1950s, with a significant level of world-class activity continuing through today," said E. Dan Hirleman, the William E. and Florence E. Perry Head of the School of Mechanical Engineering.

Hirleman and Tom Farris, head of the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, met with Rolls-Royce executives in 2001 to discuss "a vision for the future of propulsion in Indiana, and how to move it to the next level," Hirleman said.

A portion of the research will focus on phenomena called "forced response," in which high-speed air rushing into a turbine engine forces the airfoils, or blades, to vibrate back and forth. If left unchecked, this fluttering could cause blades to break and produces vibration that is harmful to engines, requiring extensive design work to prevent the problem, known in engineering parlance as "aeroelasticity."

"There is a lot of design work, an awful lot of testing to avoid aeroelastic damage, and I'd say it tends to lead perhaps to heavier, conservative designs," York said. "If we better understood the physics, we could create better modeling tools for the aerodynamics aspects and the structural-response aspects, ultimately eliminating much of the design and testing work now needed."

That, in turn, would save money and result in new engines that were lighter, more fuel efficient and less costly.

In the area of high-Mach propulsion, new engines would enable the military to design aircraft capable of quickly striking distant, mobile targets without needing to have a base in the region. The same technology applied to commercial aviation would drastically reduce global travel times.

One major engineering hurdle will be to develop ways to cool the engines in these aircraft, said J.P. Gore, associate dean of engineering for research and the Vincent P. Reilly Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

High-temperature air flowing into the engines of these ultra-fast aircraft would cause parts to grow dangerously hot. One way to reduce the heating of engine parts might be to circulate the relatively cool fuel to those parts, York said.

"Most fuels are complex mixtures, and when you start adding heat they get gummy, but we think there is a way around that problem once you understand the heat transfer and the kinetics of the fuel better," he said.

Rolls-Royce is a global company providing power for land, sea and air. It employs about 42,000 people in more than 30 countries, including more than 26,000 in the United Kingdom, 5,000 in the rest of Europe and more than 8,500 in North America. The company has a balanced business portfolio with leading positions in civil aerospace, defense aerospace, marine and energy markets. With annual sales of around 6 billion and a forward order book of nearly 17 billion, its technology is applied over a wide range of products that generate high-value services throughout their operational lives.

Rolls-Royce is the only engine manufacturer powering commercial aircraft in every segment of the market. It has customers using both fixed and rotary wing aircraft in more than 150 countries, including more than 500 airlines, 4,000 corporate and utility operators and 160 armed forces.

Rolls-Royce also is a global leader in marine propulsion, engineering and hydrodynamic expertise, with a broad product range and full systems integration capability. More than 2,000 commercial marine customers and more than 50 navies use Rolls-Royce propulsion systems and products in 20,000 ships. Navies alone operate 1,000 turbines engines.

In the energy markets, the company has supplied more than 5,000 units to customers in nearly 120 countries and is investing in new products and capabilities for the oil and gas industry and for distributed electricity generation.

Rolls-Royce has about 53,000 turbine engines in service worldwide and has pioneered the technology for aerospace, electricity generation and marine propulsion. It is involved in major future programs in these fields, including the world-leading Trent aero engine family, WR-21 marine engine, leading-edge water jet propulsion systems and combat engines for Eurofighter Typhoon and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Writer: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709,

Rolls-Royce Corporation media contact: John Brown (317) 230-4021,

Sources: Ron York, (317) 230-8200,

Linda P.B. Katehi, (765) 494-5346,

J.P. Gore, (765) 494-1452,

Stephen Heister, (765) 494-5126,

Sanford Fleeter, (765)494-1504,

Sally Mason, (765) 494-9709,

E. Dan Hirleman, (765) 494-5688,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;


Purdue and Rolls-Royce today (Thursday, 9/4) officially kicked off their joint University Technology Center to improve jet engines and develop advanced propulsion systems for future "hypersonic" aircraft. The event took place at the recently renovated High Pressure Lab at the university's Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories. From left to right are: Tom Martin, a graduate student majoring in aeronautics and astronautics; Linda P.B. Katehi, dean of the Schools of Engineering; Rolls-Royce executive Michael Howse; Purdue Provost Sally Mason; and Stephen Heister, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics. (Purdue News Service Photo/David Umberger)

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