Penn State professor Jack Langelaan's million-dollar dream took flight in the clear blue skies above California last week.
Over the course of four days in late September, the strange-looking Pipistrel electric plane Langelaan and his team had spent almost two years perfecting far exceeded lofty speed and fuel efficiency standards to win NASA’s Green Flight Challenge and a $1.35 million prize — one of the highest purses ever awarded for a flight competition.
The Green Flight Challenge was created two years ago, through NASA’s Centennial Challenges program, as a way of spurring private companies to develop a highly fuel-efficient small airplane. Funded by Congress and additionally sponsored by Google, the challenge required the winning aircraft to fly 200 miles in less than two hours and use less than one gallon of fuel per occupant, or the equivalent in electricity, with a minimum of two occupants.
Langelaan, who was tasked with putting together the flight plan, relied on models provided by Penn State’s meteorology department for local wind conditions in California to arrive at the optimum settings for the plane’s flight.
The forecast model configuration was based on the research work of Dr. Aijun Deng's graduate student, Raphael Rogers, who just finished his M.S. degree (M.S thesis titled: "Application of the Weather Research and Forecasting Model for Air Quality Forecasting Applications in Central California"). In Raphael's thesis, they conducted many comparison model simulations in both summer and winter to determine the WRF model configuration that is most appropriate to the Central California region. The optimal model configuration they determined in their research, including model grid configuration, model physics, and the multiple-scale four dimensional data assimilation strategy, was adopted in this realtime forecast application to support the Green Flight Challenge competition, except that a higher resolution grid (i.e., ~1-km resolution) was added. It is a great example of how Penn State Meteorology graduate student research is having an impact.