Aerospace Engineering Facilities and Labs

Labs and Facilities

The Department of Aerospace Engineering is housed within Hammond Building on the University Park campus and occupies more than 35,000 square feet of office, classroom, and research space. Approximately 17,000 square feet is used for laboratories, with the majority of the research being conducted in Hammond Building and Engineering Units B and C.

Additional facilities that support aerospace engineering research are located throughout campus and include Research East, Research West, Supplemental Mail, the Applied Research Lab, and the Materials Research Institute.

Facilities and Labs

Adverse Environment Rotor Test Stand

The Penn State Vertical Lift Research Center of Excellence designed, fabricated, and calibrated an Adverse Environment Rotor Test Stand (AERTS) where icing environments can be reproduced. 

The mission of this unique facility is to provide means to test new anti-icing and de-icing concepts such as ultrasonic ice protection technologies. In addition, the AERTS facility is used for ice accretion analysis validation and ice adhesion strength measurements to different coatings. 

Key features of AERTS include the Rotor Icing Test Stand and Icing Wind Tunnel.  

Formed by a 10-ft. diameter hover stand inside a climatic chamber, the rotor icing test stand allows researchers to reproduce aircraft icing conditions in an environment where cloud density, water droplet diameter, and temperature can be controlled. The rotor can be spun at a maximum of 1200 RPM depending on the rotor configuration. Testing can be conducted at temperatures as cold as -20 degrees Celsius. 

Within the icing wind tunnel, researchers can reproduce partially melted ice crystals via convection cooling and heating of water droplets—just as it happens in the atmosphere. The icing wind tunnel has two test sections: a 36" x 24" section with a maximum test speed of 78 Knots and an 18" x 18" section with a maximum test speed of 150 Knots. Testing can be conducted at temperatures as cold as –10 degrees Celsius. 

Key Faculty: Jose Palacios 

Aeroacoustics Research Facilities

Aeroacoustics research facilities include the Semi-Anechoic Chamber and the Open Jet Flow-Through Anechoic Chamber.

Semi-anechoic Chamber

The Semi-anechoic Chamber is one of a handful of facilities in the world that offers state-of-the-art sound reproduction capabilities to reproduce 3D spatial sound fields of anything from concert halls and office noise to airplane noise. The main feature of the 3D reproduction capabilities is the ability to reproduce third-order ambionics with 16 channels.

Open Jet Flow-through Anechoic Chamber

The Open Jet Flow-through Anechoic Chamber is a room covered with fiberglass wedges, with an approximate cut-off frequency of 250 Hz. 

The air flow is regulated via pressure regulators and control valves located in a piping cabinet, before being fed to a plenum and delivered to the jet nozzle issuing into the anechoic chamber. A pitot probe is embedded in the middle section of the plenum to provide, via a pressure transducer, the total pressure upstream of the nozzle. An exhaust fan, installed in the downstream section of a collector, captures the jet exhaust and minimizes air recirculation and possible local helium accumulation in the anechoic chamber. 

Jet aeroacoustics measurements are typically performed using twenty microphones, supported from a boom that extends from the plenum stand. The microphone array has controlled rotation around a point located at the center of the nozzle exit plane. The microphones are positioned at a grazing incidence horizontal to the jet centerline plane and equally spaced by 5 degrees. The physical distance from each microphone to the nozzle exit is approximately 1.8 m. This distance is sufficient to ensure that the microphones are in the far-field when testing nozzles up to 2 cm in diameter. The microphones used are 1/8 in (3.2 mm) pressure field microphones, type 40DP from GRAS. 

An open jet wind tunnel is incorporated in the facility for experiments conducted with a forward flight stream. A mixed flow design developed for minimal noise, provides the inlet flow. This flow is delivered to an axial flow muffler and acoustically treated duct work leading to the anechoic chamber inlet. An acoustically treated collector and duct work leads to an exhaust fan on the exit side of the system. This design results in an open jet, inside the chamber that is close to ambient pressure. 

Air Vehicle Intelligence and Autonomy Lab

Research conducted in the Air Vehicle Intelligence and Autonomy Laboratory (AVIA) is centered around planning and control algorithms to enable high performance autonomy, with a primary focus on robotic flight vehicles. 

Key Faculty: Jack Langelaan 

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Control and Analysis of Stochastic Systems Lab

The research activities in the Control and Analysis of Stochastic Systems (CASS) Lab primarily focus on the development of a computationally tractable dynamic data driven framework to address challenges associated with accurate modeling, forecasting, and control of engineering systems under uncertainty. 

Research challenges include developing non-parametric models from data, characterizing errors associated with models, propagating non-Gaussian uncertainties for large scale nonlinear systems, assimilating high dimensional noisy data with forecast model states, and incorporating the next generation of mobile sensors (such as drones) as big data collection and processing units.

Key Faculty: Puneet Singla  

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High-performance Computing Cluster Facility

The High-performance Computing Cluster Facility, located in 51 Hammond Building, takes advantage of modern advances in processors. The cluster was built with an emphasis on core density for performance and a small physical footprint.

Robot Ethics and Aerial Vehicles Lab

The Robot Ethics and Aerial Vehicles Laboratory (REAL) examines both the ethical ramifications and scientific underpinnings associated with developing autonomous aerial vehicles and robots. Our goal is not only to create technology to advance the science and state of the art, but to also critically investigate the societal impact of creating autonomous robots and aerial vehicles.  

The lab focuses on two broad but intertwined questions: First, how can robots, such as autonomous aerial vehicles, be made to intuitively interact with, communicate, and influence people? And second, what are the ethical, societal, and cultural ramifications of creating autonomous machines? 

Key Faculty: Alan Wagner 

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Rotorcraft Flight Simulator Facilities

VLRCOE Fixed-base Flight Simulator Lab

The Penn State Vertical Lift Research Center of Excellence (VLRCOE) Fixed-base Flight Simulation Laboratory, located in 206 Engineering Unit C, 229 Hammond Building, is an engineering simulation environment primarily used for research on rotorcraft flight dynamics, flight control design, and handling qualities. In addition, this facility The lab is also used for educational activities, where students and visitors get a feel for the control response and stability characteristics of a rotorcraft. For student researchers, the system provides hands-on experience with a mid-fidelity fixed-base simulator similar like those used for engineering development, system integration, or training at a rotorcraft OEM or government laboratory.

The simulator allows graduate student researchers to develop advanced control systems, dynamic models of advanced rotorcraft configurations, or new pilot interfaces and then test them in a realistic simulation environment with actual rotorcraft pilots.

Key Faculty: Joseph Horn 

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Motion-Base Flight Simulator Lab (currently under construction)

In 2015, Penn State was awarded a $412K grant from the DURIP titled “Advanced Flight Simulation Facility for Research on Sea-Based Operations of Rotorcraft." These funds are being used to develop a more advanced rotorcraft flight simulation facility which will be used for research on helicopter ship landings, as well as other rotorcraft flight dynamics, controls, and handling qualities topics. 

In 2016, Penn State was awarded another grant from DURIP titled “High-Performance Computing System for Real-Time Analysis of Rotorcraft Aeromechanics.”  This grant, led by Assistant Professor Sven Schmitz, along with co-Investigators Joseph Horn and Kenneth Brentner, will fund the integration of a high-performance computing system with the flight simulator to allow real-time calculations of high fidelity aeromechanics models. 

Facility Description 

The simulator is being constructed in Room 17 of Hammond Building. A schematic of the set up shown below. 

The simulator will feature another cab donated by Bell Helicopters, the BA609 Simulation Cab. The cab will sit on a 6-DOF motion base developed by Servos and Systems Inc. This compact electromechanical motion base provides +/- 30° dege roll / pitch / yaw motion in a compact 1 m3 system. Servos and Systems will also provide the 4 Channel Control Loading System. 

Servos and Systems, Inc: Compact 6DOF Motion Base: 

The visual system is being developed by project: syntropy, Gmbh from Germany. They have developed the visual system at the Helicopter Simulator at Technical University of Munich (shown below), on which our visual system is modelled. The system will include a six-channel projection system and five-meter diameter spherical screen. This system will provide 210° horizontal field of view and 50° vertical field of view. It will have high-quality auto-calibrated warping and blending system. 

Key Faculty: Joseph Horn

Sailplane Lab

The Sailplane Lab is used primarily by undergraduate students who are enrolled in the Flight Vehicle Design and Fabrication class (AERSP 204H/404H). In this workshop, students fabricate sailplanes, human-powered aircraft, and model airplanes, as well as composite parts for other vehicles being fabricated by aerospace engineering students.

Along with the tools and materials required for manufacturing composite structures, the lab is equipped with a ventilation system, a high-pressure air systems, and a mobile vacuum pump. In addition, a variety of carbon and aramid fibers are available in different weaves, along with several epoxy resin systems. 

Key Faculty: Mark Maughmer 

Space Propulsion Lab

The Space Propulsion Lab is an experimental facility that allows for full-scale testing of small spacecraft in a low Earth orbit (LEO)–type environment.   

The lab includes two vacuum chambers with associated pumping and thrust-measurement equipment capable of thermal cycling; a plasma source capable of producing streaming ions (1–4 eV) and low-energy electrons (~0.1 eV); and a host of diagnostic tools.

Quality assurance tests can be formed at full-scale on 3-U CubeSats (and potentially larger) to assess system or component performance in a realistic plasma environment. 

Key Faculty: Sven Bilén 

Structures Labs

Structural Dynamics and Adaptive Structures Lab

This laboratory is the largest of the Penn State Center for Acoustics and Vibration’s facilities, measuring nearly 1,000 square feet. The laboratory is used primarily for experiments and houses a wide variety of equipment, including a small machine shop and electronics shop. 

The laboratory provides an extensive array of transducers, power supplies, signal conditioners, data acquisition equipment (including conventional spectrum analyzers and several multi-channel Fast Fourier Transform analyzers), an SMS modal analysis system that interacts with these analyzers, several PCs, and a wide range of modern instrumentation such as accelerometers, micro-phones, sound pressure level meters, shakers, and impact testing kits. An LCR meter is available for measuring the electrical impedance of piezo-structures over a broad range of frequencies. 

The laboratory also contains a large vibration testing pad and an overhead crane for moving large pieces of equipment. In addition, there is a full range of computer technology available, including laser printers, color printers and scanners, and digital cameras. There is access to the University computer network and the internet access grid. 

Key Faculty: George Lesieutre 

Nano-/Micro-engineered Materials Lab 

Research in the Nano-/micro-engineered Materials Lab focuses on experimental studies on carbon nanotubes, polymer nano-composites, and nano-porous ceramics. The lab’s primary goals are to obtain knowledge on multi-scale structure-property relationship and to establish scalable manufacturing technologies.  

Within the lab, researchers synthesize carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and process them so the CNTs can be dispersed and magnetically assembled in a polymer matrix to form CNT-polymer nanocomposites. Researchers also study how micro-structures influence interlaminar strength of the nanocomposites, while evaluating the scalability of magnetic assembly. Similar studies are done on nano-porous ceramics and their fracture toughness. 

Key Faculty: Namiko Yamamoto 

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Student Space Programs Lab 

The Student Space Programs Laboratory (SSPL) allows undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to design, fabricate, and integrate space systems. 

The SSPL provides hands-on projects to apply classroom knowledge to real world, interdisciplinary settings. SSPL students experience working through a complete design cycle and must develop a systems engineering mind-set in addition to their component-level experience. 

Key Faculty: Sven Bilén 

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Turbomachinery Aero-Heat Transfer Lab 

The Department of Aerospace Engineering has a long history of conducting turbomachinery-related aerodynamics and heat transfer research since the 1960s. The laboratory's research focus is on experimental, analytical, and computational activities in the field of aerodynamics and thermal sciences.  

The laboratory conducts research in aerodynamics and heat transfer areas related to the improvement of gas turbine performance, durability, and turbine cooling. Although special emphasis is placed on the new generation of air breathing propulsion systems, VTOL vehicle propulsion applications are also in the research domain of the laboratory.  

Lab features include a convective heat transfer wind tunnel, high-speed linear turbine cascade with high subsonic flow ability, and a ducted-fan research setup for vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicle implementation.  

Key Faculty: Cengiz Camci 

Penn State Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research Laboratory (PURL) 

The Penn State Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research Laboratory (PURL) performs advanced unmanned aircraft systems research, including flight-testing with a variety of research systems. The lab includes dedicated research vehicle systems (airplane, helicopter, multirotor, and more), a comprehensive set of simulation tools, dedicated space for indoor flight with motion capture systems, areas for aircraft maintenance/storage, an avionics workshop. 

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Water Channel/Water Tunnel 

Laminar Flow Water Channel 

The Laminar Flow Water Channel is used predominantly for undergraduate student experiments in the AERSP 305 laboratory course and is commonly featured during many department tours. Course-related experiments include determining fluid dynamic lift force, drag force and pitching moment on a 3D model, wake vortex visualization behind an airfoil, general flow visualization around a fully (or partially) submerged vehicle, and comparison and testing of various visualization techniques. 

The water channel also serves as a research facility to conduct boundary layer growth, LDV measurements, hydrogen bubble visualization, ocean paravane development and testing, and preliminary development of micro-scale water turbines. 

Key Faculty: Rick Auhl 

Garfield Thomas Water Tunnel 

Located in Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory, the Garfield Thomas Water Tunnel (GTWT) is the U.S. Navy’s principal experimental hydrodynamic research facility. 

The GTWT is a 48-inch diameter, closed-circuit, closed-jet water tunnel used for a variety of tests: steady and unsteady forces and moments, optical flow field surveys, pressure distributions, cavitation performance, noise and vibration measurements, flow visualization, torque, and thrust. 

Wind Tunnels 

Low-Speed, Low-Turbulence Subsonic Wind Tunnel 

The Low-Speed, Low-Turbulence Wind Tunnel is a closed-throat, single-return, atmospheric tunnel. Electrically actuated turntables provide positioning and attachment for the two-dimensional models, while a six-component strain-gage balance facilitates the mounting and measurement on three-dimensional models. Its outstanding flow quality and data-acquisition system allows one to obtain high-quality, reliable aerodynamic data on airfoils, aircraft, wind turbines, and so forth. 

Key Faculty: Mark Maughmer 

Boundary Layer Tunnel

Our Boundary Layer Tunnel is heavily used in undergraduate- and graduate-level laboratory courses. General experiments related to the occasional student project, and small research grants, are also performed in this tunnel. 

Research capabilities include boundary layer measurements, general 2D and 3D airfoil testing, drag measurements of long slender vehicles, protuberance drag studies, evaluations of rotorcraft whirl flutter, and micro-scale wind turbine development, testing, and control. 

Key Faculty: Rick Auhl 

Wind Turbine Field Test Facility 

The Wind Turbine Field Test Facility provides the foundation for basic wind turbine research, which can contribute greatly to the small-wind industry. 

Both the Whisper 500 and Skystream 3.7 systems, as configured at Penn State’s Sustainability Experience Center, are inherently capable as test platforms for small wind-electric systems.

The major purpose of the Penn State "small-wind" activity is to develop a wind turbine test facility with the capability of performing comprehensive power production and rotor aerodynamics studies on small wind-electric systems. 

These systems have been instrumented with high-fidelity power and meteorological data acquisition equipment. In instances where the quantity of data is sufficient, the field test data is analyzed using an industry standard approach, whereby sampled data is averaged, distributed into bins by wind speed, and then ensemble averages of data within each bin are calculated. 

Key Faculty: Dennis McLaughlin; Philip Morris; Susan Stewart 



The Penn State Department of Aerospace Engineering, established in 1961 and the only aerospace engineering department in Pennsylvania, is consistently recognized as one of the top aerospace engineering departments in the nation, and is also an international leader in aerospace education, research, and engagement. Our undergraduate program is ranked 15th and our graduate programs are ranked 15th nationally by U.S. News & World Report, while one in 25 holders of a B.S. degree in aerospace engineering in the U.S. earned it from Penn State. Our students are consistently among the most highly recruited by industry, government, and graduate schools nationwide.

The department is built upon the fundamentals of academic integrity, innovation in research, and commitment to the advancement of industry. Through an innovative curriculum and world-class instruction that reflects current industry practice and embraces future trends, Penn State Aerospace Engineering graduates emerge as broadly educated, technically sound aerospace engineers who will become future leaders in a critical industry

Department of Aerospace Engineering

229 Hammond Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802

Phone: 814-865-2569