Predicting Parachute Performance

March 19, 2013
Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering, Parks Today Magazine, Physics, Research

Mark McQuilling, Ph.D., is helping the U.S. Army predict exactly where cargo will land when it’s dropped from a plane.

Supported by funding from an Army grant since 2008, he is collaborating with Physics Professor Jean Potvin, Ph.D., to build parachute inflation models to assess the aerodynamic characteristics of various parachute designs and sizes of cargo payload.

Understanding the performance and behavior of airdrop systems is extremely valuable to the Army and Air Force, as military cargo is being released in more extreme locations across Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Given the increasing numbers of tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural disasters around the world, the research also benefits civilian and humanitarian operations.

predicting parachute performanceMark McQuilling, Ph.D.

“The goal of military airdrop is to safely deliver cargo from a moving air vehicle using parachutes, but the unsteady processes involved are not fully understood,” McQuilling said. “If we can help the Army figure out how to do their airdrops more efficiently, it can save fuel costs and extra parachutes while simplifying the process.”

McQuilling is also working with the Air Force Research Lab at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to influence the future design of military aircraft airfoils—the curved surfaces such as wings and blades—to operate more effectively at high altitudes. He is studying a condition known as ‘separated flow,’ which can occur when the lower air density at high altitudes destabilizes the engine’s low-pressure turbines. This results in reduced power, increased fuel consumption, and additional wear and tear on an engine.

In the medical field, McQuilling collaborated with Ki Beom Kim, Ph.D., of the SLU Center for Advanced Dental Education to conduct the first scientific study evaluating the effectiveness of maxillomandibular advancement surgery, an invasive treatment to correct sleep apnea. They used CAT scans to build anatomically correct computational models of patients before and after treatment to study airflow changes in the throat passageway. He completed a similar study to evaluate the effects of the Rapid Maxillary Expansion (RME) device used to treat nasal obstruction.

McQuilling is working with a cardiologist from Washington University in St. Louis to study blood flow in the heart’s mitral valve. As people age, this valve begins to naturally leak. The research seeks to help cardiologists measure leaking volume more accurately.

McQuilling’s diverse research activities contribute both to his professional growth as well as to the development of his students.

“I firmly believe that the best teachers are also actively engaged in research,” he said. “It’s that whole lifelong learning thing. I am able to use my research outputs as perfect examples to explain the ideas of thermodynamics and propulsion in my graduate and undergraduate lectures.” said McQuilling´╗┐.

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