Future Aircraft technologies will potentially have a disruptive impact on the environment by making aviation cleaner, greener and cheaper.

Raj Ghelani, our next pathbreaker, PhD Candidate at Cranfield University (fully funded by Rolls Royce UTC), builds mathematical methods to analyze different hydrogen, hybrid electric and kerosene based aircraft propulsion systems.

Raj talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his affinity for solving mathematically tough problems that shaped his career path in futuristic aviation technologies.

For students, the priority for future generations should be to work on the big energy and decarbonizing problems which the world faces, especially in transportation !

Raj, Your background?

I am from Mumbai, India. I spent earlier years of my childhood in Gujarat and then later spent most of my adult life in Mumbai. I have studied Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering from VJTI, Mumbai and Masters in Aircraft Design from Cranfield University, UK.

My extracurricular interests include playing and watching badminton, tennis and cricket. I also like travelling and learning about different cultures. My initial interests ever since childhood were always in mathematics and analytics. I found aircrafts and ships fascinating at display shows and always wanted to know more about them. I believe I understood quite early on that my natural inclination was towards solving mathematically tough problems and that shaped my career choices.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I pursued Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering from VJTI, Mumbai and Masters in Aircraft Design from Cranfield University, UK. I am currently pursuing a PhD in Aerospace Propulsion with Rolls Royce UTC at Cranfield University.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

As I mentioned earlier, I have always been interested in solving mathematically tough problems which could benefit society. I got really interested in pursuing a career in Aeronautics while being a part of an aeromodelling team during my bachelors. This combined with my initial interest in math decided my career choices. I am also quite interested in energy solutions for society and reducing carbon footprint which is a major problem in the whole world. Thus, I decided to pursue a PhD in hybrid electric propulsion for aircrafts which will be of some use to the industry and society. I find stories of entrepreneurs extremely fascinating. I haven’t had a particular role model, but in the future I do want to pursue my own startup either in hybrid electric vehicles or hydrogen production in India.

I am fascinated by innovative entrepreneurs helping the society and would hopefully like to be one in future.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

After 10th, I was pretty clear that I wanted to pursue a career in either pure math, aeronautics or energy engineering. Hence, I decided to prepare for IIT JEE during my college years. I managed to crack the exam but couldn’t get a rank high enough to get into a good IIT, and so I decided to go for the next best option of Mechanical Engineering in VJTI. Mechanical Engineering is a perfect stream as it is quite broad and you can go into any other field after completing the course. 

During my bachelors, I did an internship at ATDI, Mumbai. This was one of the most useful experiences as it taught me time-management, and people management besides the technical knowledge. I worked on RF modeling for Wi-Fi and Tetra networks. I also was a part of an aeromodelling club which gave me some knowledge on RC (Remote Controlled) aircrafts.

After BTech, though I landed a job as a Design Engineer at a firm in Mumbai, I decided to pursue MSc in Aircraft Design from Cranfield University. I found the course at Cranfield to be very interesting and highly industrial. The career transition to aerospace from mechanical was rather straightforward for me.

The tough part came after the MSc, when I was confused whether to pursue my final dream of a startup or take up a job or pursue a PhD. I landed a very exciting offer from Rolls Royce UTC after an interview with them for a fully funded PhD in hybrid electric propulsion. I was initially not interested in PhD as I did not want to pursue a career in academics. But, I realized that the PhD is quite industrial in nature, solving real world problems. Think of it like doing industrial research in an academic environment.

During my MSc, I was part of two research projects, one with an E-VTOL startup and one on aerodynamics of tandem tilt-wing VTOL UAVS. An electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft is a variety of VTOL aircraft that uses electric power to hover, take off, and land vertically. I worked on aircraft and propulsion performance of the E-VTOL aircraft. The experience which I gained during that project helped me in the interview with Rolls Royce UTC for the PhD project, as I had first-hand experience of the complexity involved in designing such systems. 

How did you get your first break?

I got the PhD offer through self application and interview.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

The only challenge was the interview round with Rolls Royce. I prepared a bit on the research topic and the previous projects I had worked on.

Where do you work now? Can you tell us about your research?

Currently, I am in the final year of my PhD at Cranfield University. The typical work is quite software heavy where a lot of my work is focused on building mathematical methods to analyze different hydrogen, hybrid electric and kerosene based aircraft propulsion systems. I work on A320 and regional class aircrafts trying to analyze a full spectrum of cleaner, greener electrification technologies. I also look at different future scenarios and synergies of these technologies with aircraft systems. 

The work directly impacts the decision making on future aircraft technologies for aircraft operators and manufacturers. The work will potentially have some impact on making aviation cleaner, greener and cheaper.

During my PhD, I was also involved in Flyzero projects with the UK government where a back to back comparison was performed for these technologies. During the Flyzero project, I worked on three aircraft concepts, narrowbody, regional and midsize, looking at different propulsion system design for all of them.

FlyZero is the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) project aiming to realize zero-carbon emission commercial aviation by 2030. Funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the project FlyZero began in early 2021 as an intensive research project investigating zero-carbon emission commercial flight.

How does your work benefit society? 

As I said earlier, all transport systems and energy systems in the future have to be as low in carbon footprint as possible. The work I am involved in, tries to look at different options to achieve this in aviation. I believe, the priority for future generations should be to look at the big energy and decarbonizing problems which the world faces, especially India. Though I don’t particularly recommend anyone to pursue a PhD, I would suggest that one has to try to be in a position where he/she can be useful to society.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

Some of my most memorable work happened on two instances, one during my internship and one during the Flyzero project. I can’t reveal more as I am bound by confidentiality.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

I would say I have a mentality to solve useful problems for the world. Select the area which comes naturally to you, as for me it was Math and Aviation, for you it could be different. Once you have selected what you want, then work super hard at achieving that.

Future Plans?

I have a job offer from Rolls Royce to start as a Performance Engineer after completing the PhD. I aim to do the job for a few years to gain industrial experience before pursuing my own startup.