Propulsion expert joins aerospace engineering faculty


By Ashley J. WennersHerron

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The first thing David Hall noticed about Penn State was the collaboration among faculty and students.

“I had the chance to interact with aerospace faculty and students as a reviewer for a NASA program, and I was immediately struck by the strong sense of community and comradery on the team,” Hall said. “When the department put out a call for faculty positions, I was excited to submit my application.”

Hall joined the College of Engineering’s Department of Aerospace Engineering as an assistant professor in January. He studies how to improve and design better aircraft propulsion systems.

“One of my research interests is propulsion-airframe integration — looking at concepts where the airplane and engine are designed as a highly integrated system for better overall aerodynamic efficiency,” Hall said. “As a graduate student, I worked on the team that demonstrated the theoretical benefits, and my goal is to continue advancing the underlying propulsion technology from theory to implementation.”

Hall also investigates hybrid-electric aircraft propulsion.

“The benefit of electrification isn’t necessarily replacing fuel with batteries, but rather the potential efficiency improvements enabled by integration of high-power electric systems,” Hall said, noting that his research group has already started developing a capability for modeling different propulsion system architectures in the lab. “There is a lot of room to understand and build here, because the new design space is just so large.”

Hall most recently served as a research engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Gas Turbine Laboratory, working on NASA’s University Leadership Initiative Program. The program established the Center for High-Efficiency Electrical Technologies for Aircraft, led by the University of Illinois, and brings together expertise from several universities and industry partners to develop hydrogen-powered aircraft. Hall continues to contribute to the program, with a specific focus on design and integration of a distributed electric motor-powered propulsor system.

“The aim of the project is to develop multi-disciplinary solutions to tackle hard challenges in aviation,” Hall said. “Each member of the team has different experiences and knowledge about a particular part of the system, such as fuel cells or superconducting motors, which are being integrated in new and interesting ways. The hope is that the concept aircraft we are developing will also serve as a platform for development of technologies that may have other applications beyond aerospace.”

Hall has already found cross-disciplinary collaborators at Penn State to propel the research forward.

“Penn State doesn’t just provide an opportunity for research partnerships — Penn State puts an emphasis on collaboration,” Hall said. “The University wants people to collaborate in their home departments and across units — that was an attractive prospect, especially with the nature of my work.”

Hall has started discussions with faculty in the college’s Center for Gas Turbine Research, Education and Outreach, as well as with faculty in the Department of Mechanical Engineering to design control schemes for hybrid electric systems, among others. He has also turned his graduate course on internal flows in aircraft engines into an incubator for students to advance ideas to actionable work.

“Penn State’s Department of Aerospace Engineering has a reputation for producing great students,” said Hall, who has plans to teach a propulsion course for juniors in the fall. “I look forward to continuing teaching and working with excellent students who are passionate and excited about inventing the future of aviation.”

Hall previously served as the propulsion group lead at Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing company, and he completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the MIT Gas Turbine Laboratory, during which he taught as a visiting fellow at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. Hall is currently the technical program chair for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics/Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Aircraft Technologies Symposium, working to bridge communications between aerospace and electrical engineers to collaborate on new solutions. He is also a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers International Gas Turbine Institute’s Turbomachinery Committee.

He earned both his master’s degree and doctoral degree in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT. He completed his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke University.


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“Penn State doesn’t just provide an opportunity for research partnerships — Penn State puts an emphasis on collaboration.”
—David Hall