After a rigorous annual review, VLRCOE celebrates Heritage Site designation and retiring director, Dr. Dan Schrage
Sunday, 02 December 2018

From left, Mark Costello, Marilyn Smith, Dan Schrage, Mike Hirschberg, Glenn Isbell, and

Time to Celebrate. After a day full of rigorous critiques, it was time to celebrate the VLRCOE, which was named a Vertical Flight Heritage site earlier this year by the Vertical Flight Society. Seen here with the official VFS plaque are, from left, AE chair Mark Costello, VLRCOE director Marilyn Smith, former VLRCOE director Dan Schrage, VFS technical director Mike Hirschberg, VFS board president Glenn Isbell [vice president of BellFlight], and Georgia Tech executive vice president for research Chaouki T. Abdallah. See the slideshow

Georgia Tech's Vertical Lift Research Center of Excellence (VLRCOE) welcomed an entourage of rotorcraft experts to campus on Nov. 28-29 for a gathering that was part review, part celebration, and part education.

Marilyn Smith

VLRCOE Director
Marilyn Smith

The two-day event started with the routine evaluation of the VLRCOE's work, which is funded by a consortium of sponsors that includes industry, the US Army, US Navy, and NASA. The annual review is part of the competitive bid process that has consistently selected Georgia Tech as the host site for one of three collaborative research centers in the country for the past 36 years. Currently, there are also VLRCOE's at the University of Maryland and at Penn State University.

"The reason why the VLRCOE at Georgia Tech has been so successful is that the School understands that the vertical lift industry is a highly interdisciplinary proposition," said one of the reviewers, Dr. Bill Lewis, the director of the Army Aviation Missile Research Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC).

"It needs the core competencies that Tech provides, but it also needs students who are experienced in design and operation. When I came here to earn a doctorate, I had a lot of experience as a pilot, but it was like the AE School shined a light on everything else I needed to know as a captain. It still does."

After a day of meetings, lab tours, and research presentations, attendees gathered for a gala reception at the Georgia Tech Alumni House. The first order of business was the unveiling of a bronze plaque commemorating  the Vertical Flight Society's designation of the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering as a Vertical Flight Heritage Site, a distinction earned by just 10 sites worldwide. One by one, speakers praised the AE School's commitment to vertical flight, a research area that took root more than 80 years ago under the AE School's first director.

Al Brand and Susan A. Gorton
BellFlight's Al Brand shared a laugh with NASA program manager, Susan A. Gorton during the VLRCOE reception

"We were honored that the technical director of the Vertical Flight Society, Michael Hirschberg, and the president of the board of directors, Glenn Isbell, were on hand to make the award," said AE professor Marilyn J. Smith, the newly appointed director of the VLRCOE  "Georgia Tech and the VFS continue to have a strong alliance."

The highlight of the evening was a heart-felt tribute to Daniel Schrage, who announced his retirement as the director of VLRCOE after 32 years at the helm. Under his leadership, the Georgia Tech center has been the longest continually funded vertical lift grantee in the program's history. After gifting Schrage with a hand-carved wooden replica of a helicopter, Smith led attendees in raising a glass to Schrage's legacy.

"Dr. Schrage has made inestimable contributions to rotorcraft research, education and mentorship," she said. "The outpouring of tributes from former and current colleagues and Georgia Tech alumni attest that Dr. Schrage is a well-loved and respected leader, whose dedication will be keenly missed. We hope that he has a very long retirement with his wife, Nancy, and his children and grandchildren."

From left, Don Smith, Marilyn Smith (no relation) and Indirjit Chopra
Shop Talk. Prof. Marilyn Smith, center, took a few moments to meet with her VLRCOE counterparts from Penn and the U-Maryland during the VLRCOE reception.

Also feted at the reception were NASA program manager, Susan A. Gorton, and AMRDEC director Bill Lewis, each of whom were recently recognized as honorary Technical Fellows by the Vertical Flight Society.

"Their contributions, not only in supporting the VLRCOEs, but in obtaining funding from Congress and their respective organizations have paved the way at all three VLRCOEs for groundbreaking research and the education of many key researchers in the field," said Smith.

The jam-packed two days ended on an educational note, as formal attendees and members of the Institute community were treated to two lectures that focused on the field's future.

On Thursday morning, the Atlanta Chapter of the Vertical Flight Society presented its own Hirschberg and James Wang, the former vice president for AgustaWestland Helicopters, who presented a joint talk, "Electric VTOL Technologies." Hirschberg gave an overview of the various electric vertical take-off and landing (EVTOL) designs that have been proposed and tested in recent years, while Wang treated

Bill Lewis, left, with another, unnamed attendee of the VLRCOE reception
Dr. Bill Lewis, left, took some time to review the research posters on display at the VLRCOE reception.

listeners to an account of his experience as the creator and designer of AgustaWestland Project Zero -- the world first all-electric VTOL aircraft.

Later in the day, the AE School hosted Prof. Inderjit Chopra, the director of the Alfred Gessow Rotorcraft Center at the University of Maryland, who delivered the 2018 Vertical Flight Society's Nikolsky Lecture, "Small UAS and Delivery Drones: Challenges & Opportunities." Chopra reviewed the myriad technological changes that have revolutionized vertical flight -- microelectronics, superior batteries, miniaturized integrated programmable chips, among others -- and then outlined some of the challenges these improvements have created for the next generation of engineers.

"We were thrilled that the occasion of our annual review allowed the Georgia Tech community to hear from these architects of the vertical lift discipline," said Smith.


The bronze plaque given to AE from the Vertical Flight Society, recognizing GT as a heritage site Hand-carved helicopter
This bronze plaque from the Vertical Flight Society was unveiled and dedicated during the formal VLRCOE reception This hand-carved helicopter was one of the gifts given to retiring VLRCOE director Daniel Schrage