Federal Faces: Manan Vyas, NASA engineer

May 29, 2013

Manan Vyas

Aerospace engineer, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Glenn Research Center in Cleveland

Best known for: Vyas, 29, has accomplished two major technical feats in aeronautics. One will allow for more effective flight testing of space vehicles and high-speed aircraft. The other will help the U.S. Air Force retest a hypersonic engine that previously failed to ignite and propel an experimental aircraft — a critical step toward advancing the new technology.

Vyas works in the field of hypersonic-propulsion, a souped-up version of supersonic propulsion — anything above the speed of sound — the 20th-century innovation that thrilled the world with the launch of the Concorde passenger jet, which could fly from New York to Paris in less than 3.5 hours. Hypersonic flight has implications for reusable space vehicles, long-distance cruise missiles, greatly reduced travel times for passenger jets and other civilian and military applications.


Manan Vyas, an aerospace engineer at NASA. (Courtesy of Sam Kittner)

Vyas’s first achievement verified what had long been suspected — that the airflow in the wind tunnels used to replicate flight conditions has a chemical composition different from actual atmospheric conditions and leads to different combustion processes. The finding underscored that great care is necessary when replicating flight conditions in wind tunnels.

Vyas’s second technical accomplishment came from investigating anomalies that potentially caused the failure of an unmanned vehicle that was part of an Air Force hypersonic flight research program. He was a key contributor on a small, expert team that investigated the complicated aerodynamics of a test flight, known as X-51A Flight 2, and its propulsion system. The findings on the engine failure have not been made public, but the Air Force, which tests the engines, is using Vyas’s research to help prevent the loss of another X-51 aircraft.

Government service: Vyas has worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center as an engineer for three years.

Motivation for service: Vyas, who grew up in India, remembers the disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003 and the loss of seven crew members, including Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian American astronaut and the first Indian woman in space. Inspired by her journey, Vyas decided to pursue a career in aerospace engineering with the hope of working for NASA and serving his new country.

Biggest challenge: Making technical breakthroughs that will help change the future, which is “not easy because the work is very abstract in nature.”

Quote: “In the future, the area of hypersonic propulsion will provide low-cost access to space, reduce travel time fivefold, enhance our national security and provide global reach within a matter of a few hours.”

— From the Partnership
for Public Service

For a full profile, go to The Fed Page at washingtonpost.com/politics/federal-government.

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