BLACKSBURG, Va. - Virginia Tech students fired the
university's electromagnetic railgun for the first time as their U.S. Navy
railgun advisors observed the demonstration here Dec. 4.
The Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD)
railgun experts mentored the students throughout the electromagnetic railgun
"What Virginia Tech has accomplished here is impressive
and an important investment for the nation's railgun development efforts,"
said Dohn Burnett NSWCDD Deputy Technical Director. "It provides an
excellent test bed for research and a very effective way to develop scientists
and engineers who will be able to hit the ground running to help field this
NSWCDD engineers advised their Virginia Tech protégés as the
students worked on high power systems and project reviews at a Virginia Tech
"Working in the Energy Conversion Systems Laboratory
provided a unique out-of-the classroom college experience where I was able
apply my engineering education to solve real and complex challenges," said
Virginia Tech student George Hric. "My experience working with railgun
technology inspired me to pursue a career in the defense industry."
In all, the university's reduced-scale railgun program
attracted and inspired over 150 students from all engineering disciplines to
participate in hands-on research.
"The Virginia Tech electromagnetic railgun proved to be
an effective recruiting opportunity," said John Wright, an NSWCDD senior
engineer and the command's science, technology, engineering and mathematics
coordinator. "The seven interns who joined our Pulsed Power Branch last
summer significantly contributed to the development of the Navy's Railgun
The collaboration began in 2011 when Naval Engineering
Education Center (NEEC) and NSWCDD worked with Virginia Tech professor Hardus
Odendaal and his graduate and undergraduate engineering students in their
efforts to build a reduced-scale railgun with a novel energy recovery feature.
"The quality of the research aspect cannot be
overstated," said Odendaal, an electrical and computer engineering
professor specializing in electromagnetics. "Almost every aspect of the
railgun system, from the simplest mechanical part to the most complex, such as
the circuits for the custom fiber-optic-isolated networked-data-acquisition
system printed circuit boards had to be designed, developed, built, and tested
from the ground up, including software development."
Although the energy recovery circuit is not complete, the
conventional capabilities of Virginia Tech's railgun were proven at the
demonstration, according to university and NSWCDD officials.
"The experience the student gains at Virginia Tech
working on relevant railgun work is directly applicable to the skill sets we
need to transition this technology into a reality for the Navy," said
Chris Reichart, NSWCDD Pulsed Power Branch head. "The Virginia Tech students and new
hires joining us contribute right away with very little ramp up required."
NSWCDD has also partnered with other universities and
colleges - Georgia Tech, Old Dominion University, University of Michigan, and
the University of Texas at San Antonio - on projects covering a topics ranging
from railgun, unmanned systems and computer science to modeling and simulation,
additive manufacturing, and machine vision.
Students studying electromagnetic railgun technology at
Virginia Tech represent a diversity of degree programs, including electrical
engineering, mechanical engineering, materials science and engineering, civil
and environmental engineering, industrial and systems engineering, aerospace
and ocean engineering, engineering science and mechanics, computer engineering,
chemistry, and geography.
"Each student worked a minimum of 10 hours per week as
part of a multidisciplinary team to conduct research, design and assemble
parts, lay out circuit boards and test controls, program digital controllers,
or produce animations, among other tasks," said Wright. "Students
working on the project have designed the railgun projectile catch, a vacuum
flash chamber, gate drivers, control system, health monitoring system, and the
railgun startup and power-down procedures."
"We developed sensors and systems as well as equipment
for testing or calibration such as bore measurement sensing devices and
velocity measurement systems," said Odendaal, pointing out that, "one
can't just buy railgun parts from a vendor somewhere."
NEEC provides young engineers and scientists access to
projects of interest and importance early in their academic careers which
builds knowledge and enthusiasm for the field. The students are partnered with
trained professionals in the military and private sector to guide them through
current projects and to offer insight to post-education opportunities.
NSWCDD, a NAVSEA warfare center division, is a premier
research and development center that serves as a specialty site for weapon
system integration. The command's unique ability to rapidly introduce new
technology into complex warfighting systems is based on its longstanding
competencies in science and technology, research and development, and test and