The Ohio Aerospace Institute by Michael Marotta

When you walk through the Ohio Aerospace Institute, you feel the unlimited horizons, freedom of travel, freedom of action and freedom of thought. The award-winning structure that houses this multi-purpose consortium presents no barriers to vision or motion. That speaks volumes about OAI.

The Ohio Aerospace Institute is a private non-profit corporation that brings together businesses, universities, and government agencies. Its goal is to create, integrate, apply and communicate aerospace knowledge. The commercialization of these technologies is also a major focus of OAI.

Launched in 1989, OAI scans the brink of Cleveland’s “Emerald Necklace” metropolitan parks. The institute’s closest neighbor is NASA’s Lewis Research Center. The secluded setting enhances the sense of potential and the expectation of achievement.


According to the institute’s president, Michael J. Salkind, “Our principle function is to build teams.” As a non-profit consortium whose board includes representatives from both inside and outside its membership, OAI capitalizes on its unique ability to provide a “neutral turf.” By sponsoring conferences, the institute gets engineers and scientists from competing companies to bring their new ideas to each other.

Typical of this collaboration is the Propulsion Instrumentation Working Group (PIWG or “pee-wig”). Pratt & Whitney, Allison Engine, and GE Aircraft Engines are working together with NASA engineers on a project funded by the Air Force. The contract monitor is Bill Strange, an engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson AFB. The project leader is Gene Holden of Allied Signal. OAI’s Wally Rakowski is the engineer who coordinates logistic support.

The goal of the PIWG project is to develop a new capability to measure the vibration of turbine engine blades without relying on strain gages. PIWG is developing this non- intrusive stress measurement system for ground-based testing of gas turbine engines. Their plan is to create a 24-channel parallel processing system that incorporates small optical probes.

This will lead to higher reliability and longer working life for aircraft engines by reducing the risk of high cycle fatigue. According to Rakowski, “The testing done by the research team will help manufacturers more accurately predict appropriate maintenance schedules, resulting in less downtime and greater safety.”

The Rapid Agile Metrology for Manufacturing (RAMM) team is building a high-speed hybrid system for the measurement of gears, rods, and blades of turbine engines. Aerospace manufacturers rely on touch-probe coordinate measuring machines. These 3-axis robots are typically accurate to a micron (4-millionths of an inch). In the automotive world, this accuracy allows engines good for 200,000 miles that can run 100,000 miles before their first tune-up. These engines are found on cars from the Ford Escort to the Cadillac. The purpose of RAMM is to “split the microns” with a combination of contact and non-contact measuring. Half of the $9 million for this research project came from the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). The RAMM team includes GE Aircraft Engines and Brown & Sharp.


The Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson AFB is in Dayton. NASA’s Lewis Research is in Cleveland. Hartford is the home of Pratt & Whitney. Even before everyone was on the worldwide web, OAI pioneered distance conferencing. Its 200-seat auditorium features state-of-the-art multi-path communication that brings together people in several distant locations.

For instance, the microphones are voice-activated channel switches that prevent two people from talking at once. The speaker’s lectern includes a multi-view television monitor. A speaker can incorporate any visual aid from writing on the board to running a live action computer into either side of a presentation.

The commercial applications for this conferencing grew out of one of the institute’s other mandates: distance learning for engineers.

NASA’s Lewis Research was one of the founding members of the Ohio Aerospace Institute because OAI could deliver distance learning. NASA engineers who wanted to complete master’s degrees or doctorates faced a serious logistics problem. It is hard to attend classes in aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati when you live and work in Cleveland. While Case-Western Reserve and Cleveland State University are fine schools, no graduate or post- graduate program can be all things to all researchers. Furthermore, many NASA engineers already earned some credits in one program or another over the years. NASA’s goal, via OAI, was to enable its engineers to attend classes without leaving town.

Nine universities came on board as founding members. Part of that commitment was the development of the distance- learning facilities and the Interactive Video Network (IVN).

To the uninitiated, the person sitting in the front row of an IVN classroom may be watching what looks like a televised lecture on matrix algebra. Actually, that learner is virtually in that classroom at that moment. The lecturer can see the learner. If the student speaks up, the others hear the question. Funded at just under a million dollars, the IVN is an important bridge connecting aerospace researchers at businesses and universities.


Bringing educational tools to the aerospace industry is only half of the equation. The institute also introduces manufacturers to teachers and students. From presentations such as “The Physics of Star Trek” to the funding of post- doctoral research in aerospace engineering, OAI creates educational opportunities that open the doors to learning.

First, the Ohio Aerospace Institute has a basic commitment to encouraging more students to pursue degrees in engineering and science. Among the avenues for achieving this are a NASA summer internship, the Ohio Space Grant Consortium, and the On-site Graduate Education program. The summer internship has brought over 1100 students to NASA’s Lewis Research since 1989. The Ohio Space Grant Consortium gives scholarships to undergraduates and fellowships to graduate students. In addition, the OSGC promotes a wide range of K-12 activities. OSGC support pays for directly training K-12 teachers in the basics of space science. The Ohio Space Grant Consortium also awards mini-grants for the development of aerospace teaching materials for use by K-12 students.

Secondly, the institute participates in enrichment programs for college students pursuing aerospace studies and related majors. The Summer Session Program of the International Space University is an example of this kind of enrichment program. Held this year at Cleveland State University, the ISU’s home is Strasbourg, France. The ISU’s mission is to deliver an international and interdisciplinary approach to the future of peaceful space activities. This year, there are two summer projects. One effort will design a high-orbital, microgravity environment. The other challenge is to develop a methodology for dealing with the increasing “space junk” that orbits our planet.

Also at the college level, OAI’s “Pathfinder” program brings specially invited engineering faculty together for a two-day conference. Last year’s conference investigated the mechanics of distance learning, asynchronous learning, and the professional responsibilities of solving ethical problems.


If you attend the EAA fly-in at Oshkosh, you can see another OAI initiative. The Ohio Aerospace Institute funds forums for the presentation of lectures. OAI speakers are a regular feature at Oshkosh.

This year, Dick Rutan will be the speaker at the first forum, on July 29th. Colonel Rutan will talk about his past and future around the world record attempts. On August 1, the second OAI presentation will be a retrospective of the glory days of the Cleveland Air Races, 1929-1949, led by Cleveland Air Race expert Tony Ambrose.

Last year at Oshkosh OAI funded presentations in honor of the Air Force’s 50th anniversary, Chuck Yeager and the X-1. In 1996, OAI sponsored Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist from NASA Langley, and Maj. Bruce DeWitt, chief of advanced concepts integration at Wright-Patterson AFB.

OAI is in the business of being a host and they show an impressive return. In 1997, over 11,000 visitors attended 559 meetings and 479 classes at OAI. From 1993 to 1997, they earned $10 to $13 million per year. Most of this came from winning competitive grants from federal agencies. About 10% came from proposals at the state level. OAI’s track record is undeniable: they win about 80% of the grants they apply for.

OAI’s success can be attributed to many causes and factors. The one that encompasses them all is that OAI’s enthusiasm flows into all of its projects. Whether they are hosting a session to show grade schoolers how boomerangs fly or coordinating a project to design an implantable heart pump, OAI rolls out the red carpet for aerospace technology.

For more information about OAI activities go to or write to:
Ohio Aerospace Institute
22800 Cedar Point Road
Cleveland, Ohio 44142.

Michael E. Marotta
Technical Writer