I’m Michael Malone and This Is How I Mesh

Hi, I am Michael Malone and I am a Senior Principal Application Engineer in the CFD organization of Cadence.  I was born and raised in southern California and received my B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1985.  My first job after graduating was at Thiokol Corporation in Promontory Utah, one of the largest manufacturers of solid rocket motors.  Thiokol had just licensed a 3D CFD code called PHOENICS (Parabolic Hyperbolic Or Elliptic Numerical Integration Code Series) and I was given the task of learning how to use this code and apply it to the most urgent issue, which was the O-ring erosion on the Space Shuttle solid rocket boosters. 

Four months later the tragic loss of the space shuttle Challenger changed everything as there was an extreme amount of pressure to find a solution and return the space shuttle to flight.  I had never even heard of CFD when I started and so I enrolled at Utah State University, taking classes in numerical methods, CFD, convection and conduction heat transfer and even wrote my own 2D version of the PBS solver in PHOENICS to better understand the inner workings of the code and how best to apply it to the problem at hand.  I was generating grids by hand with my own FORTRAN codes for the cartesian version of PHOENICS,. Later I used codes like TOMCAT (2D) and GRAPE (3D) to generate body-fitted grids for a later version of PHOENICS.  It was quite the learning experience and started me down the road to a 37-year journey with CFD.

After the space shuttle returned to flight, I moved on to Northrop in 1990, and being a mechanical engineer, again felt overwhelmed, so I went back to night school again, this time at Cal Poly Pomona to get my M.S. in Aeronautical Engineering. At Northrop, I was on the development team for an in-house 3D Navier Stokes code and started generating grids for the B-2 bomber using this amazing new graphical grid generation tool called Gridgen.  That was the start of a 32-year (and counting) love affair with Gridgen/Pointwise that continues today.  I was able to help support and design countless air vehicles including the B-2, F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet, X-47, Globalhawk, BQM-34, BQM74, and many other classified programs, because of this amazing software.  So now I have come full circle, joining Cadence in June, and getting to work with many of the amazing people who helped me with training and bug support over the years.

  • Location: Riverside, CA
  • Current Position: Senior Principal Application Engineer
  • Current Computer: Dell Precision 5550 laptop, Intel Core i7-11800H @ 2.30GHz, 32Gb RAM
  • One word that best describes how you work: Meticulous

JC: Looking at Gridgen’s and Pointwise’s history, the sheer number of aircraft and spacecraft programs to which it was applied is a point of pride for me personally. I remember visiting you and going into the El Segundo factory to climb up on an F/A-18 so you and I could look at an exhaust vent you were currently applying CFD to. It was during that trip that you showed me one of the two YF-23s that just happened to be parked there. I’d still like to see a B-2 up close and personal. How many aircraft programs do you think you used Gridgen or Pointwise on over the decades?

MM: I went back and made a list of all the aircraft programs I worked on over my career and counted 31 different aircraft that were designed and analyzed using Gridgen or Pointwise for the CFD meshes.

What do you see are the biggest challenges facing CFD in the next 5 years?

Computational resources have always been a huge factor in CFD analysis.  Model size and fidelity as well as physics modeling are often chosen by the resources available rather than model application.  As we move to very large, unsteady simulations, there is the challenge of how to store, process, and analyze huge amounts of data.  Another big challenge as we move toward automation of the CFD process are non-traditional users of CFD using the applications incorrectly, which can lead to distrust of CFD results.

JC: One of the discussions at the 11th International Conference on CFD that I just attended was that everyone wants the accuracy that finer meshes and scale resolving simulations can bring but they’re not willing to pay for it in terms of run time relative to RANS. How do you think we solve that paradox? Are we being penny wise and pound foolish by not investing more in hardware that gives us the bandwidth to get the accuracy we need?

MM: That’s a great question.  When I started, we were using potential flow and Euler codes for preliminary design and RANS sparingly.  Today RANS is the starting point and DES/LES is the one off.  We know from our wind tunnel and flight testing that RANS gets us most of the way there and when you are making thousands of runs for an aero database, it is the only feasible option. When we are trying to predict stall or highly separated flows, unsteady RANS is not enough.  I think for unclassified work, cloud computing or leasing assets may be the way to avoid a large capital investment.  For classified work, I think the customers are going to have to demand this level of fidelity to force the contractors to make the necessary investment or provide access to appropriate government resources.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a benchmark of a commercial-like wing-body-tail configuration from a customer to compare the Fidelity CFD grid/solver with a Pointwise generated mesh run in FUN3D. Both Fidelity CFD and Fidelity Pointwise have unique and amazing features that we hope to leverage to improve both packages.

What project are you most proud of and why?

My design work on the F/A-18E/F ECS exhaust.  The newly deployed Super Hornet was experiencing heat damage to the aft composite skin and structure from the ECS exhaust. My propulsion lead at the time came up with the idea of a “Smokestack” to help lift the exhaust off the surface.  I used CFD to determine the optimal number of stacks, spacing, height and orientation and validated my thermal predictions with flight test.  All the Super Hornets in service today use this ECS exhaust design.

JC: Ah, there it is, the exhaust vent you showed me in the factory. Nice to see that come to fruition based on CFD.

Left: F/A-18E preparing for a carrier launch, the ECS inlet and exhaust stacks are visible between the vertical tails. Photo by Petty Officer Third Class Dartanon. Right: CFD analysis of the same Super Hornet ECS exhaust, showing streamlines and temperature contours.

Are you reading any interesting technical papers we should know about?

I am reading a paper on wall-modeled large eddy simulation in complex geometries with application to high-lift devices.

What software or tools do you use every day?

Definitely Pointwise for meshing.  I’m still learning the large CFD software suite here at Cadence and I’m sure I will be using those tools more in the near future.  As an application engineer, I use YouTrack for bug/feature logging and Salesforce for managing support cases.

What does your workspace look like?

JC: I love the display of challenge coins. I only have three including one from the Overset CFD Symposium a few years ago. Do any of yours have good stories behind them?

MM: Most of the coins are for programs I still can’t talk about, but the one for the X-47 (Pegasus) is interesting.  I did a lot of design work on the high aspect ratio, stealthy inlet design on the EELV program.  Our initial win of the contract was overturned, but Northrop made the internal investment to build and fly the UAV, validating the predicted performance.

What do you do outside the world of CFD?

I love to be outdoors, even if it is just doing yard work, but I try to golf as much as I can and attend baseball games at Angel Stadium and Petco Park.  I am fortunate to live close to most of my family and these days I spend as much time as I can with my beautiful one year old granddaughter.

JC: Congratulations on becoming a grandparent. As for baseball, the only time I was in Angel Stadium was for a Disneyland half-marathon where we entered the stadium and ran around the track before exiting for the rest of the course back to Disneyland. The Jumbotron was on and you could see yourself and an announcer was calling out some runners by name. Soon you’ll have to attend a Ranger’s game with John Steinbrenner and other baseball fans in the Fort Worth office.

MM: I ran a 5k before the 2010 All-star game that went through Angel stadium, but I don’t think I can keep up with you for 13 miles. I would love to go to a baseball game in Texas. I went to a Ranger game when I was a kid while visiting my uncle in Dallas and it would be great to see the new stadium.

What is some of the best CFD advice you’ve ever received?

Always assume your CFD solution is wrong and prove to yourself it is right after a careful and thorough examination of the results.

JC: Is there one particular source of error that you’d like our readers, especially those new to CFD, to be very careful about?

MM: I would say convergence.  The definition of convergence depends on the focus of your analysis.  For aircraft performance I am trying to get lift/drag to within a count, for a thermal analysis (like the F/A-18E example) I’m monitoring surface temperature. Just seeing a 3-4 order of magnitude drop in the L2-norm is not enough in itself to say your solution is converged.

If you got to choose, where would you and I go for dinner?

Bloody Mary’s in Bora Bora.  Its famous on the island and I went there on my honeymoon.  There is no menu, they display all the local, fresh fish and meats on a large ice table.  The food, view and of course the bloody Mary’s, are unbeatable.

JC: The fact that it’s stuck with you all these years is a testament to how good it is. What about something closer to home that perhaps you and I could go to next time I’m in the neighborhood?

MM: Then I would take you to the Mission Inn in downtown Riverside.  It’s a beautiful Spanish style hotel dating back to 1876 and famous for the architecture all the early Hollywood stars and U.S. Presidents that have stayed there. We can go to the award winning Duane’s Prime Steaks & Seafood and have a big steak and a bottle of wine.

JC: Mike, thank you for taking time for this interview. Welcome to the Fidelity team here at Cadence and we look forward to your contributions to CFD.

If you want to experience amazing mesh generation software and learn what made Pointwise a perfect fit for use on dozens of aircraft programs, Request a Free Trial today. One of our engineers will contact you to learn more about your requirements and how Fidelity Pointwise can meet them.

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2 Responses to I’m Michael Malone and This Is How I Mesh

  1. Sina says:

    Very nice interview.

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