Propelling Purdue Forward

Alumnus' enduring commitment supports Purdue's aeronautical engineering program

In September 1960, a young Purdue engineering student from a small town in Massachusetts was wandering the campus when he spied a low, single-story building. Above its doors were written the words "Aeronautical Engineering." Allen S. Novick (BSAAE '64, MSAAE '68, PhD '72), a high school math scholar looking for his engineering niche, thought, "Aeronautical engineering…that sounds nice. That's what I want to be." He might otherwise have chosen mechanical engineering, but those were the Space Race days, and for Novick, all it took was one look at that unassuming building with the catchy name over the door.

Novick walked through those doors and never really came out again. He stayed to earn his bachelor's, master's, and PhD from Purdue, and he won its prestigious Distinguished Alumnus award in 2006. His devotion to the school persists as university executive liaison for Rolls-Royce. That means a lot of meetings in West Lafayette for the vice president of market intelligence, but it also lands him seats at a lot of basketball and football games at his alma mater, a perk that pleases this Boilermaker. "The interaction with the university and the company is a wonderful opportunity for me. I get to meet a lot of nice people," Novick says of his frequent visits to campus.

Novick's connection with the university is certainly more than fun and games. Of Rolls-Royce's network of 29 worldwide University Technology Centers (UTCs), Purdue is the company's only one in North America. That research relationship was formalized in 2003 with the establishment of the High-Mach Propulsion Laboratory at Purdue, and Novick is excited about the synergy that results. "It's great because the researchers (at the UTC) can work without the pressures of the bottom line," he says.

The affiliation is fruitful for both entities. "We get results technologically," Novick says, "but we also get close to the researchers." Novick notes that Rolls-Royce's support of Purdue's research in the field, particularly in gas turbine technology, predates its status as a UTC. The longstanding relationship also serves as a great recruitment funnel. Of the 1,200 engineers working at the Indianapolis location, almost 700 are from Purdue. "They can hit the ground running," Novick says of fellow Purdue graduates.

A current focus of UTC research at Purdue is the development of supersonic business jets. Novick summarizes the objective this way: "At speeds greater than Mach 1, how can you eliminate the sonic boom over ground? If you can, this kind of air travel becomes viable." To that end, engineers at Purdue are studying engine air inlets and how shock waves affect the turbo machinery. Novick predicts that within a decade this research will result in a new generation of engine technology that will cut transoceanic flight time by about a third.

Novick looks ahead to the challenges facing the aeronautics industry. Admittedly, the economic downturn hampers financing to customers in the market for multimillion-dollar jets. "If they can't sell airplanes, I can't sell engines," he notes. But Novick also points to the burgeoning business of fuel-efficient engine design. "We are becoming more and more green," he says, "and we have technology and proposals already in place to develop in the years to come."

That's just the kind of challenge Novick likes about his job as an aeronautical engineer. "I'm thrilled about it. I've had great opportunity at work, having been involved in almost all aspects of the propulsion industry. The challenge of technological achievement is the ability to work with a group of engineers who are dedicated to a common endpoint. Together, you tackle a problem," he says. "And at the end of the day, you can say, 'We got it.'"

-G.V.