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November 5, 2012
By Alton K. Marsh
Already a winner of the 2010 Collier Trophy, the 250-knot-true-airspeed Sikorsky X2 technology demonstrator now has yet another honor, a spot in the University of Maryland Hall of Fame for the principal engineer who designed the aerodynamics for the twin-rotor system. It is the fastest helicopter on Earth, and with a few extra flights, could have gone 270 knots or better. Ashish Bagai, a Clark School aerospace engineering alumnus, will be inducted into the A. James Clark School of Engineering's Innovation Hall of Fame.
The Sikorsky X2 was built by a small and dedicated group of engineers sitting in a stuffy Florida hangar with toilets located outside in a special truck. They asked little, but contributed a lot. You can see it fly here.
The technology will first be used in an attempt to win a new scout-attack helicopter contract from the U.S. Army, but civilian uses are obvious. Medical helicopter with the double rotors and tail pusher prop will get patients to the hospital much faster. Rescue helicopters will quickly reach the scene of boating accidents.
Bagai’s expertise is recognized by the government, which has hired him as a program manager at the Tactical Technology Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA conducts the most advanced research of all military agencies. He obtained his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees (’90, ’92, ’95) at the Clark School’s Department of Aerospace Engineering and worked in the department’s Alfred Gessow Rotorcraft Center.
“Faculty members were constantly pushing new areas of research and then rolling their findings into the curriculum. Ultimately, it was the capability of calculated independent thinking fostered by the Clark School that helped lead to the X2 rotor design,” Bagai said. Today students of the Clark School are very close to winning a Sikorsky prize for a human-powered helicopter.
Bagai said it required a new blade to handle high speed but still be capable of hovering. “I drew on the guidance of exceptional people at Sikorsky, gentlemen who provided years of experience and in-depth understanding and were only too happy to encourage and support the effort," Bagai said. That came later in the effort. The project got its start when the innovator of the project, Sikorsky engineer Steve Weiner, was told during a water-cooler conversation one day that it couldn’t be done.
AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.
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