Hsien Kei Cheng
Distinguished Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California
Professor Hsien Kei Cheng graduated from Chiao-Tung University in
Shanghai (now known as Shanghai Jiao Tong University) in 1947, and
began graduate studies in 1949 at Cornell University
in Ithaca, New
York. He was recommended for admission to the new School of
Aeronautics at Cornell by the legendary H.-S. Tsien, whom he met while
Tsien was visiting Chiao-Tung University for a series of lectures on
the subject of high-speed flow.
At Cornell, he worked with William R. Sears and Nicholas
Rott—two of the most respected theoretical aerodynamicists in
the country at that time. After graduation, H.-K. worked at Bell
Aircraft, before returning to Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory in 1959.
In 1963, he spent a year at Stanford as a Visiting Lecturer before
coming to USC in 1965 to join the newly-formed Department of Aerospace
Engineering under the guidance of John Laufer.
HK was elected Fellow of AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and
Astronautics) and Fellow of APS (American Physical Society) early in
his career. In 1988, he was elected to the prestigious NAE (National
Academy of Engineering). The citation was: "For original contributions
to hypersonic flow theory and to the aerodynamics of three dimensional
wings in subsonic and transonic flows." He retired in 1993 to become
Distinguished Professor Emeritus. He continued to research and to
publish from his office at USC.
Early on, H.-K. worked on a variety of problems in high
speed aerodynamics. Describing the gas motions within an intense
explosion, and the determination of the flow-field about a yawed cone
at very high speed (hypersonic speed) are just two examples.
The most important of these early works was his improved estimation of
heat transfer to the nose of a blunt body, such as a space capsule,
re-entering the atmosphere. The estimate of heat transfer is critical
for the design of a body shape and size that will successfully return
to the earth's surface without being destroyed by excessive heating.
H.-K.'s more accurate estimate of heating rates, published in 1961,
came along at just the right time to aid the design of the Apollo
mission to the moon!
In the 1980's, H.-K.'s interests shifted to the description of wave
motions within the earth's atmosphere and oceans, and to the flapping
propulsion of fish (and birds) in nature. He was particularly
interested in describing the swimming propulsion and efficiency of the
large lunate-tailed fishes such as the tuna.
H.-K.'s most recent focus was to describe the underwater sound field
produced by an airplane flying overhead at supersonic speeds. He is
responsible for the discovery that—in the presence of ocean surface
waves—the acoustic wave field of the airplane does not decay
substantially under the surface. The acoustic field may indeed be of
sufficient strength to disturb whales and dolphins.
A memorial service
will be held for Professor Cheng on Nov. 5, 2007.
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