Jon S. Tatro

United States of America


From Leadership Profile:  Vertiflite July/August 2014

Jon S. Tatro, President, International Affairs and Program Manager, Carter Aviation

Coordinating development of the Slowed Rotor/Compound (SR/C) at Carter Aviation Technologies, Jon Tatro manages a small team promoting innovative high-speed, long-range, runway-independent aircraft. In April, Carter’s Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) followed an appearance at the SUN ’n FUN airshow in Lakeland, Florida with a demonstration and briefing for the US Central Command (USCENTCOM) and US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) at MacDill Air Force Base. With a jump take-off and climb-out to cruising flight, the 4,000 lb (1.8 t) PAV showed how SR/C technology mixes fixed-wing-type performance with Vertical Take-Off and near-Vertical Landing. “Bringing a product to market, that would be ideal,” acknowledges Mr. Tatro. “But you’re talking tens and tens of millions to do that, even in kit-plane form. Our current objective with the prototype flying is to get it out there in the marketplace and get people interested in the technology for various mission sets. We’re also, in parallel, trying to get more knowledge into the public, and particularly major aerospace companies, regarding our hovering configuration.”

While previously at Bell Helicopter and Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) maker AAI Corporation, Jon Tatro considered the impact of VTOL on manned and unmanned mission sets. “The benefit of VTOL is you can operate out of austere sites, including off of a ship. That’s a huge benefit. The downside is, of course, you give up a tremendous amount of capability in terms of performance. Payload, range, endurance or time-on-station – VTOL loses in all those areas. That’s the fundamental dichotomy, and that’s where the Slowed Rotor/Compound is so attractive.”

Carter’s concepts include a 17- to 19-seat hovering SR/C sized for the offshore oil market and potential Future Vertical Lift (FVL) applications. “We are talking to people about that, but nobody pulls the trigger on a billion-dollar program without all sorts of due diligence,” says Mr. Tatro. “It may be a few years before we’re able to get someone to step-up and commit to that configuration, despite the upside in cost, performance, productivity, and safety.”

Pilot Interface 
Growing up in Gresham, Oregon east of Portland, Jon found an early interest in aerospace. “I think it was a confluence of all sorts of things, maybe the adventure appeal of the Star Wars movie. Just the notion of flying sat well with me, and I was interested in being an astronaut but didn’t realize you couldn’t be blind – shame on me.” Though poor eyesight may have ruled out spaceflight, the Gresham High School graduate took a pilot’s view of aviation. Augsburg College in Minnesota provided a major in experimental psychology. “That was the backbone that got me into the engineering psychology program with Stan Roscoe at New Mexico State University. Stan Roscoe helped form the aviation research lab at Champaign-Urbana . . . I actually went to New Mexico State specifically to study with Stan.”

Graduate studies in the Behavioral Engineering Laboratory at New Mexico State also provided work on contracts from the Office of Naval Research (ONR). A pilot’s license earned on the Piper Tomahawk in 1983 led to a job as a pilot and investigator for Illiana Aviation Sciences Limited in California. In 1984, Jon Tatro received the William E. Jackson Award from the then-Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA), presented to the year’s outstanding graduate student in the field of aviation electronics. He did contract work for Westinghouse on Peacekeeper MX missile launch and handling, and applied to the Lockheed Skunk Works and Bell Helicopter. “Both had interesting work, and I had offers at both companies,” he recalls. “But in the end, vertical lift had been my focus in grad school, and when you considered the delta in cost-of-living between Texas and southern California, it was a no-brainer to head to Bell. It was the right decision and I owe Bell a lot for the opportunities they provided.”

The Advanced Rotorcraft Technology Integration (ARTI) program preceding the Light Helicopter Experimental (LHX) competition led the young Bell engineer to build cockpit simulations for a single-pilot scout/attack helicopter. Mr. Tatro observes, “I think it was all doable single-pilot. I think it was just kind of a bridge too far at that point in time. A lot of the technologies involved in that automation weren’t as mature as they are today, particularly fly-by-wire.”

A follow-on assignment tackled the challenges of the V-22 helicopter-airplane controls. “My efforts on that program included redesign of the thrust-axis control as a result of the Aircraft 5 mishap in Wilmington, followed by an assignment as Manager of the Human Engineering program for the Bell Boeing team. I co-led the cockpit management system redesign team in response to lessons learned from the mishap over the Potomac River.”

V-22 cockpit work sent Jon Tatro to an assignment at Boeing Philadelphia. “I eventually created a program called CV-22 Tactics at the request of AFSOC [Air Force Special Operations Command]. This was a SOCOM-funded activity that spanned nearly 10 years. We provided rapid prototyping and simulation testing for Special Forces-unique systems for the CV-22. AFSOC crews then tested these designs and developed Tactics, Techniques and Procedures. Some of the efforts ended up bringing in Marine Corps crews as well as engineers from Boeing. I consider CV-22 Tactics a model program. People talk about thanks to our nation’s warfighters, but they really do not have a full appreciation for all that they do. They deploy away from their families and after they return, they redeploy across the U.S. supporting such programs as V-22. They have a deep understanding of their craft and bring some of the best engineering minds I’ve ever encountered to arrive at innovative, operationally-suitable solutions.”

Back at Bell, Mr. Tatro led other human-machine interface efforts including work on the Day/Night Adverse Weather Pilotage System (D/NAPS) and Rotorcraft Pilot’s Associate (RPA). “Development of Cognitive Decision Aides and related Artificial Intelligence-based autonomy was the focus of my work in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s,” he says. “Among other things, we did one of the first cooperative engagement demonstrations via simulation between the Eagle Eye UAS and the Kiowa Warrior.”

Slowed Rotors 
After nearly 25 years at Bell, Jon Tatro transferred to another Textron company – AAI – to work on advanced projects such as the DARPA Transformer, Cargo UAS, and the Medium Range Maritime UAS. “I took the SR/C technology to AAI after Textron acquired them in early 2008. After a year of briefings to the services and labs regarding the merits of the technology for UAS applications, Textron Systems/AAI elected to pursue an exclusive license for use of the technology.” Jon Tatro joined Carter Aviation Technologies full-time in 2013.

The SR/C slows the rotor to about 100 RPM in forward flight to achieve advance ratios greater than Mu 1. The first CarterCopter technology demonstrator achieved Mu 1 and 150 kt (278 km/hr) in 2005. The second-generation PAV achieved Mu 1 and 177 kt (328 km/hr) last year. In January, the PAV set an altitude record of almost 18,000 ft (5.5 km), attained an advance ratio Mu 1.13, and sustained 175 kt (324 km/hr). The current configuration with turbocharged reciprocating engine promises eight hours endurance, better than 191 kt (354 km/hr) cruise speed, and altitudes to 28,000 ft (8.5 km). Mr. Tatro explains, “You reduce the rotor RPM, the drag is reduced by the cube of that reduction.” Carter has proposed different long-range SR/C configurations with speeds to 365 kt (676 km/hr). “The hovering configuration has basically a prop on each wing to provide anti-torque, and a really innovative clutching mechanism that grew out of the wind turbine work Jay had done back in the early ‘70s and ‘80s where there is zero torque across the clutch during engagement and disengagement. That hugely simplifies that clutching mechanism and reduces its weight. ”

With about a dozen employees, Carter Aviation Technologies remains among the “non-traditional” rotorcraft companies pursuing improvements in vertical lift beyond today’s helicopters. Mr. Tatro offers, “I think the VLC [Vertical Lift Consortium] today is trying to keep the notion alive that there needs to be investment in rotorcraft Science and Technology, and that it needs to be more significant than it has in the past, and that investment needs to be sustained. To some extent, the JMR demonstrator programs are a step in that direction.”

SR/C technology needs investment. Mr. Tatro acknowledges, “The key really is we’ve got to get ahold of serious funding to get the aircraft produced,” says Jon Tatro. “It’s really, really difficult to be on a level playing field, and smaller companies don’t have all the infrastructure, all the disciplines, that can be drawn on and put together in a comprehensive proposal.”

DARPA has supported non-traditional companies developing enabling technologies for its larger contract efforts. Carter Aviation Technologies is part of the DARPA TERN (Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node) program meant to use smaller ships as mobile launch and recovery sites for medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).

Based on the PAV technical achievements, AHS International awarded Jay Carter Jr. the 2014 Paul E. Haueter Award for his significant contributions to the development of vertical take-off and landing aircraft (VTOL) other than helicopters. Jon Tatro currently serves on the AHS board of directors as Vice President of Membership and believes the Society can both encourage young engineers and promote non-traditional suppliers. “There’s a huge amount of contacts that you’re able to glean as a member that are otherwise difficult to come by,” he explains. “AHS provides a worldwide Forum, and the benefit of developing a paper and presentation and having high-caliber attendees in one location is absolutely huge for the non-traditionals. It’s sort of one-stop-shopping in reverse from a marketing point of view.” Mr. Tatro adds, “AHS has served as a mediator of sorts permitting or enabling a dialogue between industry competitors that might otherwise not have occurred.”