Aerion Supersonic

Our Interns

By Tom Vice on Sep 13, 2019

6 min read
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This is a heartfelt post about three young men who spent the summer working at Aerion Supersonic. Their names are Prashanth Prakash, Laurens Voet, and Jayant Mukhopadhaya, and they interned with us for several weeks. In that time, we grew to admire their scientific finesse, their creativity, their team-spirit, and their hard work.

Prashanth and Laurens were based in our office in Reno, Nevada and have just flown back east to resume their PhDs at MIT. Jayant is at our software development office in Palo Alto, California for a few more days, and will return to his PhD at Stanford in time for the Fall semester.

It isn’t an exaggeration—or some sort of corporate formality—for me to write that I’m sad to see them go. But I take comfort in the fact that their departure is almost certainly short-lived. We think we’ve cemented a relationship with them that will see them come back to us at their next available break. They’re part of Aerion now and share our spirit and values.

Earlier this year I was interviewed by a writer from The Wall Street Journal. One of the things we talked about—which didn’t make it into the published text because of space constraints—was whether there’s a skills shortage in America. Do we, at Aerion—the writer asked me—have trouble getting skilled recruits.

My answer was that there’s a shortage, but that a reason for it is a positive one. There’s intense competition for skilled engineers—especially in the area of aviation—because American companies are doing so many cool and wonderful things. You just have to pick up the newspapers on any given day and read about electric vertical-take-off-and-landing autonomous vehicles, or, to take our own case, a revival of civilian supersonic flight.

Our country is doing some incredible things across so many fields, so there’s a high demand for engineers. Aerion wants to be a magnet for talent, the place that engineers—who could be working anywhere they choose—will want to come. We recruit our talent from all over the world. If you walk around our offices you’ll find employees from France, Spain, India, Belgium, Canada, and China. And the best of America.

Prashanth and Jayant are citizens of India, born and raised in big Indian cities. Laurens is Belgian, from a tiny town in Flanders. What they have in common is a world-class scientific education and a desire to work at the frontier of innovation. Prashanth is 26. He was born in Chennai and is completing a PhD at MIT’s Lab for Aviation and the Environment. Laurens is 24 and was born in Kalken, a Flemish town of five-and-a-half thousand people. He’s at an earlier stage of his PhD than Prashanth, and is at MIT’s Gas Turbine Lab. The two of them are part of a project with the FAA that’s studying the environmental impact of engines for supersonic planes.

That’s how I met them. We’re building a supersonic plane at Aerion—the 12-seater AS2, the first civilian supersonic jet since the shutting down of Concorde—and I’d gone to MIT in November last year to talk about the work we’re doing. I’d heard about the project these two young scientists were a part of, so I made sure to reserve some time to meet with them and their advisors. It was a small group—five of them, plus me—and I told them of our vision at Aerion of a supersonic aircraft that’s also built in an environmentally responsible way, both in terms of noise and emissions. At the end of the meeting, Prashanth and Laurens said to me, “This sounds really perfect for us. Can we be summer interns at Aerion?” And I said yes, with no hesitation. They sent me their CVs that same day and came to work on June 10, seven months later.

We set them to work on two separate environmental issues. This had the added bonus for Prashanth and Laurens of giving them the opportunity to work with Gene Holloway, a man with a 40-year career at the highest levels of aviation engineering and Aerion’s first Chief Sustainability Officer and Vice President for Environmental Responsibility. Under Gene’s supervision, Prashanth worked, among other things, on questions of carbon sequestration (for which Aerion has ambitious plans, which I will detail in a later post). Laurens turned his mind to matters of noise, modeling the atmospheric conditions under which an aircraft can attain Boomless Cruise™—in other words, flying at a speed that is supersonic, but without a boom hitting the ground.

In between these flights of scientific enquiry, Prashanth and Laurens also got to know the ground they inhabit. They took the opportunity to explore a part of America they’d never seen before, including a seemingly insane day-trip from Reno to Death Valley, an 800-mile circuit they covered in 16 hours.

Our third intern, Jayant, is 25, and works for us out of our software development office in Palo Alto. The focus of his PhD at Stanford is aerodynamic modeling, and his lab (along with research labs in five other countries) developed a code called SU2 which Aerion is evaluating for its own use. Matt McMullen, the senior aerodynamicist at Aerion, contacted the professor who runs the Aerospace Design Laboratory at Stanford asking for a top-notch intern. Matt was introduced to Jayant.

I’d met Jayant in May, part of a small group that I had lunch with on a visit to Stanford. At our Palo Alto office, he’s one of a dozen people who develop the aero modeling and optimization tools for our Reno team who are building Aerion’s plane. He’s lived in the U.S. for eight years—the first four of which were spent freezing in Ithaca, in upstate New York—and would like to settle in America.

When asked why, he says this: “In terms of opportunity, the kind of stuff that I want to do—aircraft design, and perhaps even startups in general—the environment is so much better here in the U.S. than it is anywhere else.”

These engineers remind me of my first days as a junior engineer at Northrop while at the University of Southern California—almost the same age, in fact, as Prashanth, Laurens, and Jayant.

Prashanth Prakash, Laurens Voet, and Jayant Mukhopadhaya represent the best engineering talent the world has to offer. Aerion is a very special place of truly talented, creative, and compassionate people. However, our company, and I would argue our Country, needs more talented engineers to remain competitive. A pathway to citizenship for Prashanth, Laurens, and Jayant is a great place to start.

If you want to change the world with us, please let me know. We would love to have you join our team.