NASA recognizes Thomas Brooks for work in aeroacoustics

September 19, 2014
By Bill Krueger

Noise from airplanes can be a nuisance. If you’ve ever lived near an airport, you can relate to the frustration of hearing the endless noise produced by one aircraft after another.

Thomas Brooks has dedicated his career to researching ways to reduce such noise, as well as ways to reduce fuel consumption and emissions produced by planes and other aircraft. A possible breakthrough came last year when he and a team of fellow NASA engineers built a model aircraft that he says could be the blueprint for future aircraft designs.

Thomas BrooksFor Brooks, who has worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center for 40 years since graduating from NC State in 1968, the goal is to analyze equations and create experiments in the hopes of reducing ground noise and fuel emissions produced by aircraft.

Brooks and his team built what Brooks refers to as a “hybrid wing body” design. “The hybrid body design is much more compact than your traditional aircraft,” he says.

Brooks hopes the compact design will reduce fuel emissions and noise produced at ground level. The experiment was conducted in a wind tunnel and, according to Brooks, more than 90 microphones were used to detect noise generated by the model.

On August 14, he spent the day in Washington, D.C., where he received a Distinguished Service Medal from NASA. The medal is awarded to employees who display outstanding service in their respective fields of study.

Brooks’ work has been in the field of aeroacoustics, which is the study of noise generated by airflow. Brooks, a Charlotte native, says the most enjoyable part of his work is matching the equations with the models he builds.

“Our work can, at times, be very hard and abstract,” he says. “But all of a sudden, you come up with an equation that matches your experiments. That’s what keeps you going.”

The tricky part, for Brooks and his team, is detecting the source of noise using a cluster of microphones. Brooks says challenges like these are difficult, but rewarding at the same time.

“The hardest part is that you run into technical challenges and your experiment doesn’t go like you want it to,” he says. “They can be fun and give you a headache at the same time.”

While earning his Ph.D. at NC State, Brooks got his start in aeroacoustics through NASA’s Fellowship Program, which is designed to facilitate research in the fields of science and mathematics.

After he completed the fellowship program, Brooks says he was eager to make his own impact. “When I came here, there were some early giants in the world of aeroacoustics,” he says. “There were so many advancements in those days, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Brooks is a member and technical fellow of the American Helicopter Society, and is an editor of the International Journal of Aeroacoustics.

— Will Watkins

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