REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (June 10, 2021) – Dr. Mahendra Bhagwat was named the Army Senior Research Scientist for Airvehicle Aerodynamics and Preliminary Design in October 2020 after more than 20 years with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center.
Prior to his ST selection, Bhagwat led strategic planning for the aviation basic research and aeromechanics portfolio as the focus/capability area lead. We asked him to share the story of his career path and how he supports the Army.
Q: Tell us about yourself.
A: I grew up in a small town in the central/western India called Dhule. Went to college in Mumbai for a bachelors in aerospace engineering. Came to the U.S. in 1996 for grad school at the University of Maryland – that’s what got me started on this exciting journey through helicopter aerodynamics and Army aviation.
Q: How would you explain your job to someone outside the Army world?
A: I would say my job is to help the Army be a smart buyer. Better understanding of rotor and aircraft aerodynamics helps get a handle on the performance and loads of the vehicle. These, in turn, result in vibration, noise and effect the mission capabilities. We have new challenges with new designs for future vertical lift, and even with upgrades to the current fleet. These require new scientific discoveries, evaluation of new concepts and assessing emerging technologies. We do that through experiments and analysis, modeling and simulation. We work with the universities and industry and other government organizations to pull together knowledge threads to ultimately help the next-generation Army.
Q: How does one become a senior research scientist?
A: That’s a tough one. I don’t really know. It’s somewhat straightforward to become a scientist if you like research. It’s also straightforward to become “senior” even if you don’t like it. Putting the two together just happened because I was surrounded by the right people to constantly encourage, guide and mentor.
Q: Did you always want to work in air vehicle aerodynamics and design?
A: I always liked aerodynamics – you see all kinds of “streamlined” or aerodynamic shapes in nature. From birds and fishes to bugs. Even leaves and flowers and seeds. Loved watching condensation trails left behind aircrafts. These vortices get much more intense and interesting for rotating wing or vertical lift aircraft. That’s why I wanted to focus deeper on and work in aerodynamics. And also to avoid all other complex disciplines like propulsion, structures, materials, flight dynamics and controls.
Now design is a fascinating and much broader field that connects aerodynamics with pretty much everything else that I was trying to avoid! It is truly an interdisciplinary field that weaves together all disciplines. I am excited to start growing into this area, learning new things and relearning old ones. Lots of challenges ahead.
Q: What do you enjoy about your job?
A: I get to work on the whole range starting from academic research with university professors and students, to innovative technologies developed by industry. I am constantly reminded how much I don’t know. There is always something new and exciting to learn.
Q: What do you like to do when not at work?
A: Spend time with my wife and two boys, hike and bike on some local trails.
Q: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in your career field – or starting their career in general?
A: I am a bit like Lewis Carroll’s Alice - she generally gave herself very good advice, though she very seldom followed it. “Follow the white rabbit” best sums it up. Science is very much like an adventure underground because you are always looking for something you didn’t even know.
The DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the Army’s research and development focal point for advanced technology in aviation and missile systems. It is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. AvMC is responsible for delivering collaborative and innovative aviation and missile capabilities for responsive and cost-effective research, development and life cycle engineering solutions, as required by the Army’s strategic priorities and support to its Cross-Functional Teams.