James (Jim) Howlett

United States of America



Jim Howlett spent 46 years (from 1966 – 2012) at Sikorsky aircraft starting in the Research engineering branch and then moving on to the Handling Qualities section where he worked his way up to become the manager of Handling Qualities. He was a major player in the design of, and modifications to, several of Sikorsky’s helicopter models with the goal of meeting handling qualities requirements or further improving vehicle handling characteristics. He holds several patents marking his contributions, especially in integrating modern engine controls with helicopter responses. As the industry was transforming from limited authority flight controls systems to more advanced full authority fly-by-wire systems, Jim provided able leadership to the group that performed the control law design to take advantage of these new capabilities.

Jim’s most significant contribution, however, is undoubtedly his role as chief architect of Sikorsky’s blade-element flight dynamics simulation model known as GenHel. He started that effort early in his career and is largely responsible for the development and maturity of the analysis detail that it includes. GenHel was a major advance in rotorcraft flight simulation fidelity, which had been based on tip-path-plane (i.e. “rotor disk”) models until that time. As digital computer power continued to advance, he would continue to expand the physics that GenHel simulates. With increased computation power, the GenHel model ran in real-time providing for a high-fidelity piloted simulation. Jim’s continued efforts to improve simulation fidelity helped reduce the risk in design, and, also helped reduce development time. Largely because of his efforts, the GenHel program is regarded by those at NASA/Ames and within other military research groups as the industry standard. Jim continued that role as chief architect while managing the Handling Qualities and Control Law section until he retired.

Jim was a long-time editor for the American Helicopter Society, now known as the Vertical Flight Society (VFS). He was also a visionary, recognizing the importance of many emerging technology advances in Handling Qualities criteria, system identification, and flight control design, to the new family of full-authority fly-by-wire helicopters. Jim was a strong proponent of research collaborations, giving his young engineers opportunities to learn these new technologies and benefit from the interactions with colleagues outside of Sikorsky. In 2011, Jim was recognized as a VFS Technical Fellow for making notable and outstanding technical contributions to the vertical flight community and advancing the interests of vertical flight. Throughout his career he gained the respect not only of those within Sikorsky but also of those in Sikorsky’s customer base and his peers in industry and academia.