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ODU Wind Tunnel Managers Make Personal Commitment to Help the Environment

When they work at Old Dominion University's Langley Full-Scale Tunnel (LFST), Bob Ash and Drew Landman oversee complex aerodynamics testing on big trucks one day, race cars the next.

Built more than 75 years ago by the agency that would become NASA, the LFST is the largest university-operated wind tunnel in the world. Every fighter airplane deployed during World War II was tested in the tunnel.

Ash, a professor of aerospace engineering with the Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, is director of the ODU Wind Tunnel Enterprise Center, overseeing the business management of the facility, which ODU took over on a day-to-day basis from NASA about 10 years ago.

Landman, an associate professor of aerospace engineering, runs testing exercises at the LFST, working in particular to find fuel efficiencies in vehicles through reduced wind resistance.

That push for greener vehicles extends to the personal lives of the two long-time faculty members.

When they travel from their homes to their ODU campus offices, Landman and Ash both take environmentally friendly forms of transport. Ash rides his combination road/mountain bike; Landman hops on his electric-powered eGO scooter.

"I spent my youth until my mid-30s riding bicycles," says Landman, who has been at ODU for 21 years. "During my early years at ODU I rode my bike to campus nearly every day.

"When I sustained a chronic ankle injury I had to stop riding. But I wanted to get back the feeling of riding, and to try and lower my environmental impact as I had done in the past with my bicycle."

So a few days a week, you can find Landman picking his way along back streets between his home near the Norfolk Naval Base and the university. The commute is less than three miles, but Landman tries to stay off Hampton Boulevard as much as he can.

"The Hampton Boulevard Bridge (over the Lafayette River) is my biggest obstacle," Landman says. "I commute at 15 to 18 miles per hour, and can hit an all-out speed of 27 miles per hour if necessary."

Ash, 67, has been a bicycle commuter for 30 years, inspired by a university professor who warned him long ago about the dangers of society's dependence on fossil fuels.

"Anything we as individuals can do is beneficial, no matter how small a gesture it seems," says Ash, whose commute to campus is a little more than two miles.

The benefits for Ash are tangible. He doesn't even own an ODU parking pass. "I save $400 a year," he said. "Of course I spent $200 on maintenance for my bike in the last year." That included the repair of two flat tires, which Ash attributes to the construction on campus.

But Ash, who joined the ODU faculty in 1967, says the school has been very supportive of bicycle commuting. His office in the LEED-certified E.V. Williams Engineering and Computational Sciences Building has showers and lockers.

Ash appreciates the gestures because, for him, the decision to reduce his carbon footprint is highly personal.

"It's taken the earth millions of years to produce these hydrocarbon molecules. And as a society, we've compressed the time to use them up into a few hundred years," he says.

"Because of its speed and relative cost, none of us wants to give up our car. But we can't live this way forever."

Landman feels the same way. For him, the best thing about the eGO: basically zero emissions.

"I try to be conscious of environmental issues. I feel that this country needs to break its dependence on the car, and one way is to adopt a bicycle for short trips, or if you can't pedal, a light scooter," Landman says.

"Unfortunately, a lot of gas scooters have very high emissions, so since I was primarily interested in a vehicle for the short commute to campus, I chose the eGO. It is so-called 'zero-emission,' but of course there is some minimal pollution to account for the generation of the electricity used to charge it."

Once it's charged, the eGO can run for 15 to 20 miles before requiring another charge.

Both Landman and Ash wish things could be done to make the region more friendly to green commuting.

"One big problem we have as two-wheeled light-vehicle operators is that there is not a designated lane for us," Landman says. "Norfolk has a bike trail plan but has not implemented it. I hope that we can now see the utility in implementing such a plan."

Landman notes that cities like Portland, Ore., and Davis, Calif., have successfully promoted bicycle commuting through the creation of designated lanes and trails.

"I believe electric vehicles that are of similar performance should share these routes," Landman says.

"When I share my experiences with others, often the first words out of their mouths are, 'Isn't it dangerous being on the roads with cars?' The answer is yes, and we need to change that."

Ash thinks one thing that could improve matters considerably is a tiny bit of courtesy from those motorists who seem to resent his presence on the road.

"There are those motorists, probably less than 10 percent, who seem to resent that we're sharing the road," he says. "They're the ones, it seems, who go out of their way to find the puddles and splash you."

This article was posted on: June 18, 2009

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