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NEWS
Propulsion Center Achieves Feat
July 7, 2010

Recently, Walter O’Brien, director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Turbomachinery and Propulsion Research (CTRP), celebrated the award of his most recent patent on a significantly more sophisticated design, a novel ignitor for combustion and supersonic flows, a device that may prove useful in Mach 5 or hypersonic speed vehicles.


Walter O'Brien, director of Virginia Tech's Center for Turbomachinery and Propulsion Research. Photo courtesy Virginia Tech.

Dr. O’Brien explained the difficulty of designing such an ignitor. “It is like trying to light a match in a tornado,” he noted smiling.

Aerojet, an internationally recognized aerospace and defense leader specializing in missile and space propulsion, found the ignitor’s possibilities so interesting it donated $50,000 to support students in the design and building of a scramjet combustion simulator that will be tested at Mach 2.4 in the company’s facilities. An undergraduate student team is completing the design.

Aerojet is just one of many such companies interested in the CTRP. Dr. O’Brien and the collaborative partners working in the center, some of whom have been there more than three decades, have grown the research and education program into one of the leading centers of its kind in the country. Pratt & Whitney attested to this fact when it established a strategic partnership with Virginia Tech in 2008.

Dr. O’Brien, had earned his ME undergraduate degree from Virginia Tech in 1960. After receiving his master’s at Purdue University in 1961, he returned to his hometown to work for the Aerospace Research Corporation for three years until he left to pursue his Ph.D. in ME at Virginia Tech. From 1967 until 1970 he worked at Blacksburg’s Poly Scientific office and served on the ME faculty in a part-time capacity.


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