January 4, 2021

photo of john-paul clarkeWe are pleased to announce that John-Paul Clarke has joined the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics as a professor and holder of the Ernest Cockrell Jr. Memorial Chair in the Cockrell School of Engineering. Clarke comes to UT Austin from the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he was the College of Engineering Dean’s Professor and held appointments in the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering and the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering. He also served as the director of the Air Transportation Laboratory and recently, while on leave from Georgia Tech, held the position of vice president of Strategic Technologies at United Technologies (now merged with Raytheon).

Clarke is world-renowned for his work on aircraft trajectory prediction and optimization, particularly as it relates to improving flight procedures that reduce the environmental impact of aviation. He is also an expert in the development and use of stochastic models and optimization algorithms to improve the efficiency and robustness of airline, airport and air traffic operations. Clarke’s work has influenced air transportation theory, policy and practice both at the national and international level. His current research interests include urban air mobility (UAM) and the development of autonomous aircraft, including air traffic management and control for these systems. He testified before Congress to the House Science Committee in 2018 about the challenges of UAM.

Clarke’s leadership and service history are extensive, and include service as co-chair of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) committee that developed the U.S. National Research Agenda for Autonomy in Civil Aviation. He has also served on several other NASEM committees including the committee chartered at the request of the U.S. Congress to review the Enterprise Architecture, Software Development Approach, and Safety and Human Factor Design of the Next Generation Air Traffic System. Additionally, he has chaired or served on advisory and technical committees chartered by the AIAA, European Union (EU), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), NASA, and the US Department of Transportation (DOT).

Clarke holds S.B., S.M., and Sc.D. degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he served as a junior faculty member. He has received numerous honors and awards including the AIAA/AAAE/ACC Jay Hollingsworth Speas Airport Award, the FAA Excellence in Aviation Award, the National Academy of Engineering Gilbreth Lectureship and the 2012 AIAA/SAE William Littlewood Lectureship. He is a Fellow of the AIAA and is a member of AGIFORS, INFORMS and Sigma Xi.

Q & A with Professor John-Paul Clarke

How long have you been interested aviation and aerospace engineering?

All my life! As a child, I went on an airplane at least once a year for vacation with my family. I was one-year old when I flew for the first time from my hometown of Kingston, Jamaica to New York on a Vickers VC10 aircraft. It’s still one of my favorite airplanes and, in my opinion, its rapid demise after the OPEC Oil Crisis in the early 1970s is a great example of the consequences of not fully considering uncertainties when designing an airplane. Growing up, my brother and I were always interested in airplanes and we would identify them based on the engines. At first I thought I wanted to be a pilot, but then I realized being an aerospace engineer would be more fun because as an engineer you get to design the aircraft.

What drew you to The University of Texas at Austin?

First and foremost, it’s a great university and secondly, there is a lot of research activity around urban air mobility and autonomy, including a non-profit autonomy institute nearby. But most importantly, I felt I could fill a niche where my background and experience could be helpful. UT Austin seems like an ideal place for me to do this.

What do you enjoy most about your research?

I like doing research that makes an immediate difference in people’s lives. For example, the flight procedure design methodology that I developed was used to design the current flight arrival procedures into Los Angeles for aircraft coming in from the East. I worked with air traffic controllers and aerospace designers there to optimize that procedure. Known as CDA (continuous descent arrival), aircraft effectively “glide” from cruise through descent and approach to landing instead of the traditional “step-down” approach, which allows for the engine to be left at idle during descent. This has many advantages, including minimizing fuel use, reducing gaseous emissions and noise pollution and saving the aircraft from additional wear and tear.

What are your top priorities for establishing your research program at UT?

My vision is to create a hub where we can tackle issues at the intersection of urban air mobility (UAM) and autonomy — one that is cross-cutting and involves faculty and researchers from across campus. In addition to looking at the technical aspects of autonomous vehicles, the institute would also address the regulatory issues, because urban air mobility and autonomous vehicles are not just an engineering problem, but also a policy and legal problem. It’s all about enabling “increasingly autonomous mobility.” It’s not just “air” we need to look at — we have to develop an ecosystem that will allow for more and more autonomy within all modes of transportation, including on the ground. That said, within aerospace I am looking forward to a robust collaboration with Maruthi Akella and his group who are currently developing an urban air mobility program.

Tell us about your teaching philosophy.

My teaching philosophy is pretty straight forward. People learn in different ways and it’s my job to convey the material effectively and in as many ways as possible to support these different learning styles. I like to teach the math side of things, but it’s also important to provide intuitive explanations and real-world examples so that the students have something to help them remember the material. For example, in my undergraduate dynamics course I introduced a hands-on assignment that requires students to develop a simulation of a 6 degree-of-freedom double-pendulum. Students then build the pendulum and evaluate its performance relative to their original models. To sum it up, I make the material accessible to students by adapting my lectures to meet the students’ learning styles and provide them with real-world experiences or examples to embed the underlying ideas and principles in their minds.

What kinds of things do you enjoy outside of work?  

I’m a track and field official and serve on the World Athletics International Technical Officials panel for North America, Central America and the Caribbean. I also sing in a small choir when I am in the Cayman Islands.