Armenians loss is someone else's gain, when will we be able to keep these brains in Armenia. Wake up republic of Armenia.
ILLINOIS PROFESSOR HAS EMERGED AS A LEADING VOICE IN FLIGHT CONTROL SAFETY
May 18 2015
Mon, 05/18/2015 - 3:02pm
University of Illinois
Naira Hovakimyan has a background as a mathematician, which dates
back to humble beginnings in Armenia. Over the last 17 years, however,
researchers in the United States have tapped Hovakimyan's calculations
to help advance work in the stability of flight control systems. In
March, her research group's L1 control method was successfully tested
in a Learjet plane at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Hovakimyan, now a professor of mechanical science and engineering and
Schaller Faculty Scholar at the University of Illinois, was a college
student during the end of the Cold War. She completed a Master of
Science degree in theoretical mechanics and applied mathematics in
1988 from Yerevan State University in Armenia, one of 15 republics
of the former Soviet Union. Armenia seceded from the USSR in 1991
and while the move brought freedom for Armenia as an independent
state, not having an established financial freedom and an air and
rail blockade from neighboring countries crippled the economy and
put most of its people out of work.
"It was not clear how to live," Hovakimyan said. "We went five years
without electricity or energy, living with oil lamps and candles. In
those conditions, you don't wake up and think about going to work.
People were exchanging real estates for a one-way ticket out of the
country to go to a place where life was normal."
The country's instability prompted Hovakimyan to further her education
in Moscow, completing a PhD in physics and mathematics from the
Institute of Applied Mathematics of Russian Academy of Sciences in
1992. The Russian culture of mathematics was very much theory based
for its own beauty.
"In Russian culture, as long as you impress another mathematician
who may be more famous than you, then wow, and that's more or less
the end of the story," Hovakimyan said. "In the western world, people
are looking for how it can be applied. In academia, if you want to get
your students excited, you bring these applications into your group."
She was looking for any opportunity to be able to stay in science,
and with conditions in Armenia in disarray, she was prepared for that
opportunity to come in a different country.
>From 1994-98, she traveled the world taking advantage of offers
to study and teach. Because Germany was one of the first countries
to establish an embassy in the newly formed Republic of Armenia,
Hovakimyan applied for and was granted a scholarship as a German
Academic Exchange Service scholar at Stuttgart University. She had
similar opportunities in subsequent years in France and Israel,
while also earning a Young Investigator Best Paper Award in Japan.
Her career path was set in motion in 1998 when she received an
invitation from Georgia Tech, looking for a mathematician of her skill
set to join the team there in studying the stability of flight control.
"It wasn't my original dream or plan, as I had no prior training in
flight dynamics or flight control" Hovakimyan recalled. "However,
a flight control system involves questions related to stability and
robustness of performance and this problem is very mathematical in
nature. Stability is something I had good training on back in Russia,
so I took the challenge."
Hovakimyan spent the next five years with consecutive six-month
appointments not knowing when the appointment might end. However,
she slowly became absorbed in the research and churned out impressive
papers on the subject, catching the eye of several sponsors of basic
Meanwhile, sponsored by both the Air Force and NASA, Hovakimyan found
a position as an associate professor at Virginia Tech in 2003. It
was there that Hovakimyan, jointly with postdoctoral fellow Chengyu
Cao (now on faculty at University of Connecticut) developed the L1
adaptive control theory, which can aid a pilot to regain control of
an airplane in sudden and drastic circumstances. She and Chengyu Cao
wrote a book on their L1 adaptive control theory.
"Once we developed it, NASA came along with opportunities of how to
apply it," Hovakimyan said. "NASA was working on their own aviation
safety program. They wanted to have an aircraft in a facility that
could model flying in the wind tunnel."
NASA tested a 5.5 percent subscale general transport model aircraft
for a variety of challenging conditions and testing it for aggressive
"From the nine controllers that were tried in flight, L1 adaptive
controller was the only one surviving the stall and post-stall
conditions, giving the pilot a fully controllable aircraft. L1
controller was eventually used for modeling unsteady aerodynamics
in stall and post-stall conditions, including the departure edges of
the flight envelope," Hovakimyan said.
Once the group had applications up and running, she accepted an
invitation to join the faculty at the University of Illinois in 2008.
The goal of the L1 adaptive control is for an aircraft to maintain
nominal handling qualities and prevent unfavorable aircraft-pilot
interactions in the presence of aircraft failures (changes in
aerodynamics, loss of control, coupling between control channels,
shifts in center of gravity, etc.). For instance, if the airplane
hits a wind gust and goes into stall (instability), losing lift,
L1 adaptive control maintains the roll stability so the pilot could
put the nose down and recover.
Over the past 12 years, the system has been tested in a series of
advanced conditions to prove that it works.
Hovakimyan's Advanced Controls Research Lab at Illinois has maintained
close ties to NASA. From 2009-11, NASA Langley tested the system
on the AirSTAR dynamically scaled Generic Transport Model research
aircraft. TuDelft conducted piloted simulation evaluations on the
SIMONA motion-based research simulator in 2011.
Following the successful NASA Langley flight tests, her research
garnered international recognition. Hovakimyan received the AIAA
Mechanics and Control of Flight Award in 2011 and the prestigious
Alexander von Humboldt Research Award in 2014.
While these tests were performed on unmanned aircraft, that all changed
in March when the L1 robust adaptive control was successfully used
aboard a manned Learjet at Edwards Air Force base.
Over the course of three weeks, two B-52 pilots, an F-16 pilot,
two flight test engineers, and two safety pilots performed rigorous
evaluations in varying flight conditions. The team tested for seven
failure configurations and in each case the system allowed the aircraft
to recover uniformly, consistently, and predictably.
"The Learjet test was successful in a sense that it helped us
verify the theory on a manned aircraft with seven different failure
configurations," Hovakimyan said.
NASA is planning to fly a hybrid airplane, combining the benefits of
multi-roters. Hybrid platforms will give a confidence in vertical
takeoff and landing capabilities to allow for transition to longer
Ultimately, Hovakimyan would like for the L1 flight control to have
an impact on commercial aircraft.
"Boeing has flight control systems that they have invested billions,
which doesn't make sense to replace, but they could have ours as a
back-up," Hovakimyan said.
In addition to commercial aviation, Hovakimyan's team has had several
inquires in the drone market. The University of Illinois and NASA have
patented the L1 adaptive controller with certain government rights.
The patent has been licensed to IntelinAir, a company which is building
drones for precision farming, surveying and infrastructure inspection.
Hovakimyan has also received inquiries from the Illinois Emergency
Management Agency (IEMA) about integrating the system into drones for
public safety applications, like fires and tornados. The IEMA will
present the work at a conference in September. Students at UIUC will
work on the project in summer.
In addition she is consulting Statoil in Norway on how to use the
method in drilling applications. Raymarine has commercialized an
autopilot for high-speed boats.
Life in Armenia has stabilized over the last two decades, but it
was those tumultuous years that ultimately propelled Hovakimyan to
her role as a leading voice in flight control systems. Her family is
still in Armenia and, while she admits that she never saw her stay
in America lasting this long, she is proud of the fact that her hard
work in USA is making a difference in air safety.
"Illinois has given me a lot of opportunities and resources that
have resulted in some great accomplishments," Hovakimyan said. "I am
excited to see what we can continue to do in the future."
For more information on this story for further College of Engineering
media inquiries, contact Mike Koon, marketing and communications