Aerospace America logo, click or touch this logo to return to the homepageAerospace America - click or touch the Aerospace America logo to return to the homepage.

AIAA Bulletin

April 2017

Karen Berger Wins 2017 AIAA Lawrence Sperry Award

By Duane Hyland

Credit: AIAA

Each year, AIAA presents the Lawrence Sperry Award for a notable contribution made by a young person, age 35 or under, to the advancement of aeronautics or astronautics. The award honors Lawrence B. Sperry, pioneer aviator and inventor, who died in 1923, in a forced landing while attempting a flight across the English Channel. The winner of the 2017 award is Karen Berger, an AIAA Senior Member, and the Langley Aerothermodynamics Laboratory Facility Manager at the NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA. Berger received the award at the AIAA SciTech Forum in January.

Berger began her career at NASA working on the Space Shuttle Return-to-Flight program in 2005. In response to a critical program need, she became a subject-matter expert on boundary-layer transition. As her responsibilities grew, she contributed to Space Shuttle on-orbit mission support from 2005 until the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. Between 2009 and 2011, Berger joined the Hypersonic Infrared Measurements (HYTHIRM) project that gathered ground- and air-based thermal images of the Space Shuttle during its reentry to the Earth’s atmosphere. In 2010 Berger became Deputy Principal Investigator of the Space Shuttle Boundary Layer Transition Flight Experiment (BLTFE) and in 2011, she became Principal Investigator for the Space Shuttle BLTFE. While a part of the Space Shuttle BLTFE, Berger oversaw experiments that modified the Space Shuttle’s thermal protection system to create extremely high temperatures during reentry as a way to test the upper end of the design limits of the shuttle’s protection system – a hazardous undertaking that had been banned since the fifth shuttle flight (STS-5) and to test the computational and experimental tools that were used to design thermal protection systems. The Space Shuttle BLTFE experiments were carried out on five flights (STS-119, STS-128, STS-131, STS-133, and STS-134) and were all successful, with critically useful data obtained from each of the flights. Through those experiments, researchers gained knowledge of high Mach number boundary transition that they applied to the design of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. Those data have been critical to gaining a better understanding of uncertainties for flight boundary-layer transition predictions based on ground-based testing results. Other projects that Berger has worked on include the X-51, HIFiRE, Orion, Ares and the Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft.

Berger has also been very involved with the AIAA Hampton Roads Section, serving as the Section’s Pre-College STEM Outreach Chair for eight years and as a Section Council Member (2009–2012; 2013–2016). Her past honors include the 2015 AIAA Hampton Roads Section Robert A. Mitcheltree Young Engineer of the Year; the 2015 Peninsula Engineers Council Doug Ensor Young Engineer of the Year Award; a 2013 NASA Early Career Achievement Medal; the 2013 NASA Silver Snoopy; and a 2010 Space Flight Awareness Award.

We began our interview by discussing what sparked Berger’s interest in hypersonic boundary-layer transition research. She said, “I first started working in hypersonics as an undergraduate co-op student at NASA Langley, while attending Virginia Tech. I got involved in wind tunnel testing early on and got to work on the Columbia Accident Investigation and Return-To-Flight testing while still in school. The group I was working with was very focused on hypersonic boundary layer transition (BLT) and it really peaked my interest at that point.” She explained the significance of the research she performs: “Of course there was the immediate use of that information to help determine what happened to the Space Shuttle Columbia, but we also used it to help create tools to understand the risks on future flights. Pretty much any hypersonic vehicle has the potential to have BLT issues in flight and a better understanding of when transition occurs and how hot the vehicle will get helps in the design of effective thermal protection systems (TPS). Without an understanding of when BLT will start, a vehicle may have to be designed for fully turbulent flight, increasing the thermal protection system thickness and thus increasing the weight and potentially decreasing the payload.”

I asked Berger how the knowledge gained from these specific research projects help the aerospace community at large. “A better understanding of BLT (causes and when it will start) helps the community develop better tools for vehicle design and analysis. This can lead to more realistic thermal protection system design (materials and thickness) and help us avoid significant overdesign. The overdesign leads to increases in weight and thus decreases in payload and/or vehicle size that can eventually result in the cancelling of a program. Better wind tunnel testing and computational tools will lead to more successful flight tests and safer, more accurately designed vehicles. There’s very little flight data in the hypersonic regime (because flights are often one of a kind opportunities and very expensive) so any opportunity to collect data on hypersonic BLT is a great thing.”

Berger described how her research benefited the Space Shuttle and how researchers might apply it to the Space Launch System and the Orion Crew Capsule. “The BLT Flight Experiment was started because of the realization that although we had tools to look at BLT prediction on the Space Shuttle, they were almost exclusively based on ground testing and computational tools. There was very little flight data to help with the extrapolation or validation. The desire was to do a flight test with the purpose of collecting data on the vehicle in a controlled and instrumented manor. Through the five flights of the experiment (along with extensive ground testing and computational predictions) we were able to show that the correlations we were using to predict when the vehicle’s boundary layer would transition to turbulent were actually pretty good. The predicted temperatures from our tools though were significantly higher than the measured temperatures so it left room for improvement. We created the Space Shuttle tools using our extensive history of testing the Space Shuttle configuration, but we’re using some of the same correlations to design many other vehicles including Orion and SLS. Having a better understanding of how well they worked with the Space Shuttle helps us better understand their strengths and weaknesses on other vehicles and configurations.”

Expounding on the practicality of her research to aid future space exploration efforts, Berger noted, “The better the TPS design is for a vehicle, the more likely a flight is to succeed. If we overdesign everything, it might be safe, but it also might be too heavy or too large (or both), especially for travel to other planets/moons and that can lead to the cancelation of programs. It’s really important to try to get the design as close as we can. By using what we’ve learned from the Space Shuttle BLTFE, we hope that we can improve the computational tools to a more realistic design. The flight experiment provides a set of comparison data for that purpose.”

When I asked Berger to look ahead in her field and speculate what advances we can expect to see, she replied, “I think the big thing right now is trying to figure out how to model boundary-layer transition computationally. There are a number of techniques that are being used but we need to get a better understanding to how well they relate to both ground testing (since that’s the easiest place to test our configurations and gather data) and flight testing. People have been working this problem for a long time and we still have a lot of work to do. We also are looking at better ways to correlate ground testing and flight testing results.”

We then discussed Berger’s thoughts on winning the 2017 Lawrence Sperry Award: “First of all I was really surprised and honored to win the award. There are a LOT of really great young professionals within AIAA so it really is something special to me. I always dreamed of working with the Space Shuttle when I was growing up and in college so when I got to do it in real life, it was amazing. Being a part of the Damage Assessment Team for the Space Shuttle and then the BLT Flight Experiment is really what put me in a position to win the award. That work would not have been possible without the countless other people with whom I got the opportunity to work on the Space Shuttle program and without some really amazing mentors and colleagues.”

We closed the interview by discussing her thoughts on the value of AIAA to the aerospace community as a whole. Berger said, “I have been a member of AIAA since I was an undergraduate at Virginia Tech. While I was there, AIAA was invaluable as a way to meet people within the professional aerospace world as well as gain the skills to help get a job (like interviewing). When I graduated I became a professional member and have been active within the group ever since. I think AIAA provides critical technical resources through conferences, speakers, networking events, etc., but it also provides mentoring for younger professionals, a social environment to get to know coworkers and a way to meet people throughout the aerospace field. I’ve had many coworkers looking for information on something outside of their field of expertise and through local AIAA contacts, we’ve been able to connect the right people to make sure that the necessary information gets to where it needs to go. Now I also serve as the K–12 STEM Outreach Co-Chair for my section and through that AIAA has a hand in raising the next generation of aerospace professionals.”

AIAA congratulates Karen Berger on being this year’s recipient of the Lawrence Sperry Award!

Award Announcements

Twelve AIAA Student Members Named to 20 Twenties List

Credit: Chris Zimmer

Twelve AIAA student members have been named winners of Aviation Week Network’s awards program: “Tomorrow’s Engineering Leaders: The 20 Twenties.” The winners were honored during Aviation Week’s 60th Annual Laureate Awards on 2 March at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. (Full details can be found at:

Award Announcements

Developing Future Aerospace Leaders for America

Anusha Dixit, Poolesville High School, MD, participated in a five-week internship at GSFC. Shown with mentor Rick Harman, Ms Dixit used MATLAB to model spacecraft dynamics, and credits her internship opportunity for solidifying her decision to study aerospace engineering in college. Credit: AIAA

The STEM Pipeline Program for AIAA Sections

Dr. Supriya Banerjee, FAMES®, AIAA STEM K–12 Committee

The K–12 STEM Outreach Committee would like to recognize outstanding STEM events in each section. Each month we will highlight an outstanding K–12 STEM activity; if your section would like to be featured, please contact Supriya Banerjee ( and Angela Diggs (


Purpose: To develop a pipeline of future aerospace leaders ready for the challenges of tomorrow. The STEM Pipeline Program is available to all AIAA Sections as a proven tool to engage students in exploring STEM careers in aerospace through structured engagements including science fairs, internships, and continuing education.

Benefits: The Pipeline Program benefits both students and employers. Students are exposed to real-world experiences beyond academic coursework. High school students are better equipped to make informed decisions about their college education. Undergraduate students are better prepared for future employment. Employers have an opportunity to equip and train their future workforce.

Internship Opportunities: Any STEM-related industries in your AIAA Section: NASA centers, government and DoD facilities, national laboratories, industry partners, and universities.

The Program

The AIAA National Capital Section (NCS) developed the Pipeline Program in collaboration with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s (GSFC) Education Office in 2015. The Section leverages and enhances the Summer Internship Program that NASA offers. The program consists of the following three elements:

  1. High School Science Fair Judging: AIAA members judge students’ aerospace-related projects at science fairs. The 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-place student-winners at each fair are selected and invited to participate in the STEM Engagement Experiential Learning Program.
  2. STEM Engagement Experiential Learning Project (EELP): Science fair winners participate in a three-day STEM engagement activity, EELP developed in 2014 by Drs. Supriya Banerjee and Natalia Sizov in collaboration with NASA GSFC’s Education Office. EELP is designed to inspire future scientists and engineers by offering broad exposure to STEM. Students learn about innovative technologies and NASA’s mission through laboratory tours. They take a trip to Wallops Flight Facility, and have the opportunity for direct discussions with scientists and engineers. In 2014, the students met with GSFC Center Director Christopher Scolese, Nobel laureate John Mather and astronaut Paul Richards. This AIAA program provides the students with exceptional opportunities to experience broad range of technologies and ongoing programs, as well as discussions with senior managers, scientists, and engineers.
  3. STEM Pipeline Project: Expanding on EELP, the STEM Pipeline Project was developed in 2015 by Dr. Banerjee in conjunction with NASA GSFC’s Education Office. It provides students with a longer, continuous exposure to working in STEM fields. Students participate in the existing NASA Summer Internship program, which they can continue through college, provided they satisfy NASA selection criteria. Through these exceptional internship opportunities, students gain knowledge and real-world training impossible to attain in a classroom setting. This stable educational environment is a powerful tool in the STEM vision of building an American workforce ready for the challenges of tomorrow.

Setting up the Internship Program Through Collaboration

While this program focused on NASA GSFC, Sections can work with any local STEM employers. Internship opportunities with local industries and universities may be flexible, whereas internships with local DoD or government agencies may need to be coordinated more carefully to fit within specific regulations. When more flexibility in internships is possible, the Sections may 1) identify the students by following the STEM Pipeline Process Summary, 2) work with employers to set up the program, and 3) coordinate with students to continue internships in the following years. The selection criteria for internships and stipends depend on the employer.

Acknowledgements: Sincere thanks to Dr. Sandy Magnus of AIAA for encouraging me to develop the program and to share it with AIAA Sections, Dr. Robert Gabrys of GSFC’s Education Office for collaborating with AIAA NCS and providing opportunities for the students at the center, and Dr. Sandy Magnus of AIAA, Lt. Col. Tucker Hamilton and Dr. Angela Diggs of the USAF for their review and comments on the document.

STEM Activities

U.S. Navy X-47B UCAS-D Team Received 2016 AIAA Aircraft Design Award Honor

RADM Mathias Winter and Northrop Grumman X-47B Design Team posing with AIAA Aircraft Design Award Certificate From Left: Joan Yazejian, Chris del Palacio, RADM Mathias Winter, USN, Aaron Munger, John Whittenbury. Credit: Joan Yazejian

On 4 August 2016, AIAA honored the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) Program Team at a banquet held at the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum in Lexington Park, MD. The AIAA Aircraft Design Award is presented to a design engineer or team for the conception, definition, or development of an original concept leading to a significant advancement in aircraft design or design technology. The award is sponsored by the AIAA Aircraft Design Technical Committee. The 2016 award was presented to Rear Admiral Mathias Winter and U.S. Navy X-47B UCAS-D Team “in recognition of the significant advances to autonomous aircraft operations, both on an aircraft carrier and in the aerial refueling environment, as enabled by the X-47B.”

The UCAS-D program marked several aviation firsts. In 2013, the X-47B accomplished autonomous carrier launch and recovery in a flight from the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). This was followed in August 2014 by a demonstration of the aircraft’s integration with naval aircraft operations as it operated alongside F/A-18 fighter jets aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). Shortly after, the X-47B completed autonomous aerial refuelling in April 2015.

Around 50 members of the U.S. Navy X-47B Team and 25 X-47B industry representatives participated in the AIAA Aircraft Design Award ceremony. The guest speakers for the event were James MacStravic, Acting Under Secretary of Defense, Acquisition, Technology & Logistics, and Adm. Mathias Winter, who led the X-47B Team’s historic efforts in 2013 and 2014. The night concluded with remarks from Maryland State Senator Steve Waugh (also a former Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier pilot) who presented a citation from the Maryland General Assembly congratulating the Navy X-47B Team and Adm. Winter on the award achievement.

Award Announcements


AIAA congratulates the following students who won student paper competitions held during the 2017 AIAA Science and Technology Forum and Exposition (AIAA SciTech Forum). Thank you to our sponsors for their generosity.

American Society for Composites Best Student Paper Award

Phillip Deierling, University of Iowa, AIAA 2017-0124, “Investigation of the Effects of Porosity on the Overall Thermomechanical Properties of Graded Metal-Ceramic Composites.”

Guidance, Navigation, and Control Best Student Paper

Behrad Vatankhahghadim, University of Toronto, Institute for Aerospace Studies, AIAA 2017-1738, “Passivity-Based Magnetic Attitude Control with Impulsive Thrusting” 

Harry H. and Lois G. Hilton Student Paper Award in Structures 

Yile Hu, University of Arizona, AIAA 2017-1140, “Peridynamic Modeling of Fatigue Damage in Notched Composite Laminates”

Intelligent Systems Best Student Paper

Brett Israelsen, University of Colorado Boulder, AIAA 2017-0343, “Towards Adaptive Training of Agent-based Sparring Partners for Fighter Pilots”

Jefferson Goblet

Zachary R. del Rosario, Stanford University, AIAA 2017-1090, “Developing Design Insight Through Active Subspaces”

Kan Liu, Air Force Institute of Technology, AIAA 2017-1144, “Continued Improvements on the Internal Convective Colling System of a Notational Hypersonic Vehicle”

Lockheed Martin Student Paper Award in Structures 

Kevin Knapp, Air Force Institute of Technology, AIAA 2017-1139, “Comparison of Finite Element Strain Distribution to In Situ Strain Field of a Plastically-Deformed Plate”

Southwest Research Institute Student Paper Award in Non-Deterministic Approaches

Laurence W. Cook, University of Cambridge, AIAA 2017-0590, “Horsetail Matching for Optimization Under Probabilistic, Interval and Mixed Uncertainties”

Award Announcements


AIAA Fellow Hyer Died in February

Michael W. Hyer died on 15 February. He was 74 years old.

Dr. Hyer received degrees from SUNY-Buffalo, Purdue University, and the University of Michigan. He worked on the Super Sonic Transport at Boeing for several years after he received his master’s degree in the late 1960s. He then went to the University of Michigan where he completed his Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering. 
His first faculty job was at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. In 1978, Dr. Hyer started his long career at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) as a professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics, retiring as the N. Waldo Harrison Professor. He loved his teaching and research on the mechanics of composite materials and structures, but he especially cherished the relationships he built with his graduate students. 

Although he retired in 2010, he remained very active in professional societies, reviewing journal articles, co-authoring papers with his former students, and supporting colleagues around the country. Among the many professional honors he received, he was especially proud to have been chosen as a Fellow of AIAA. In 2013, Dr. Hyer was awarded the AIAA-ASC James H. Starnes Jr. Award.


To submit articles about section events, member awards, and other special interest items in the AIAA Bulletin, please contact:

Christine Williams
Editor, AIAA Bulletin

April 2017 AIAA Bulletin

  • Share this:
  • Share this article on Facebook
  • Share this article on Twitter
  • Share this article on LinkedIn