NASA to discuss Laminar Airflow research

On Wednesday, March 30, NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center will host an hour-long web chat on achieving laminar or smooth airflow over an aircraft surfaces. The chat will feature NASA Dryden aerospace engineer Ethan Baumann. The latest in a series of NASA web chats for the on-line community on a variety of topics involving NASA aerospace research or missions, the hour-long session is slated to begin at noon PDT (3 p.m. EDT). The chat window will open at the bottom of the web page starting at 11:30 a.m. PDT, and participants can log in and be ready to ask questions at noon.

Laminar airflow over an aircraft’s surfaces, especially its wings, has been called the holy grail of aviation. Aircraft engineers and designers have sought after it for many decades, but it’s very hard to accomplish. Achieving laminar airflow, however, can result in increased range, greatly improved fuel efficiency and reduced exhaust emissions.

The challenge of laminar flow is that it is very hard to do, thanks to seams, rivets, hinges, flaps and anything that sticks out or moves. All those objects break the flow and create tiny pockets of turbulence. The shape of the wing itself can cause the airflow to separate from the wing’s surface, causing reduced lift and increased aerodynamic drag. But the smoother the air can flow over the aircraft, the more efficient it becomes, resulting in increased range, dramatically improved fuel efficiency and reduced exhaust emissions and environmental impact.

Baumann, an aeronautical engineer in the Flight Controls & Dynamics Branch at NASA Dryden, is currently chief engineer for NASA’s SubsoniC Research Aircraft Testbed, or SCRAT, a modified Gulfstream III business jet, and for the Discrete Roughness Elements Laminar Flow Glove Experiment, or DRELFGE. Baumann is working with other researchers to transform the G-III aircraft into a flying laboratory. In about two years they’ll fly the DRELFGE experiment, which incorporates a large “glove” with tiny bumps – the discrete roughness elements – along the leading edge of the left wing. The bumps actually stabilize airflow, and have shown great potential to reduce aircraft drag and improve laminar flow on future aircraft.

During Wednesday’s chat, Baumann will answer as many questions as possible during the one-hour period about the quest for laminar flow and what it means for all of us if it can be achieved.
Baumann has been employed at NASA Dryden since 1999, first as a student in the cooperative education program and then full time following college graduation. Prior to his work on SCRAT and DRELFGE, he worked on the Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) project; he was a member of the X-43 hypersonic project team, the Phoenix Missile Hypersonic Testbed, and an assistant to the chief engineer for space shuttle operations support at NASA Dryden. A native of Indiana, Baumann holds degrees from Purdue University and UCLA.

More about NASA’s laminar flow research is available on-line at:


  1. Joel Godston says

    What is the website to ‘attend/listen’ to the ‘seminar’? It was not in the article in General Aviation article…… Joel Godston, a retired Aeronautical Engineer from RPI class of 1955 and worked at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft for almost 40 years retiring in 1992: and a pilot still flying

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