Wednesday, December 14, 2022

State lawmakers toured the University of Iowa Technology Institute’s Operator Performance Lab (OPL) hangar at the Iowa City Municipal Airport on Tuesday.

Led by OPL Director Tom “Mach” Schnell, the Jim “Max” Gross Chair of Engineering, and Randy “Tarzan” Marzen, visitors got a first-hand look at the research center’s fleet of jets, helicopters, drones, and simulators.

“There is nothing else like it that I know of anywhere in academia,” said Schnell, who is OPL’s chief test pilot and a professor of industrial and systems engineering.

The flight testing center works on projects with industry and military and conducts research focused on operator cognitive ability. OPL has a close working relationship with the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, the University of Iowa’s Air Force ROTC Detachment 255, and is working on the DARPA ACE project to advance artificial intelligence in fighter jets.

The OPL has been in operation for 24 years and more than 2,800 hours of flight test experience in over 400 projects or project increments. To date, Schnell has brought $31 million in external research funding to UI.

This was part of a campus visit also attended by staff from the Iowa Economic Development Authority, Iowa Finance Authority, and the House Democratic Research team. Engineering students, members of the Office of the Vice President for Research, and UI Government Relations also participated.