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Brenda Kulfan

Retired Technical Fellow Aerodynamic
at Boeing Commercial Airplanes


Brenda M. Kulfan retired in January 2011 as a Senior Scientist / Technical Fellow in the Boeing Commercial Airplanes Enabling Technology and Research Organization after more than 50 years with the company.

She received her BS and MS degrees in Aeronautics and Astronautics Engineering from the University of Michigan (1959, 1960). Her 50+ years of engineering experience includes extensive knowledge of the fundamentals and flow physics related to subsonic, transonic and supersonic flows. She developed numerous methods for drag prediction, configuration analysis, design optimization and leading edge vortex formation. She participated in the US SST program, Supersonic Cruise Research, SCR, and the more recent High Speed Civil Transport studies as well as many Boeing internal advanced technology and aircraft programs. She was the principal investigator on numerous Government Contracts related to Transonic Aircraft, Variable Sweep Oblique Wings, Supersonic Propulsion / Airframe Interference, Natural Laminar Flow, Variable Camber, Subsonic Military Transports, Laminar Flow Control, Large Span and Strut-Braced Wings, Application of Hypersonic Favorable Aerodynamic Concepts to Supersonic Aircraft. She recently developed the new powerful CST universal geometry representation method that is used by industry, academia and numerous research organizations through the aerospace industry.

As a result of her recent studies related to paleoaerodynamics and Biomimetics of flight she was requested to present plenary papers on the subject at the SPIE 16th Annual International Symposium on Smart Structures and Materials & Nondestructive Evaluation and Health Monitoring and at the 2011 International Workshop: SMART MATERIALS, STRUCTURES & NDT in AEROSPACE Conference NDT in Canada. She has co-authored a chapter titled "Biomimetics and Flying Technology" in BIOMIMETICS: NATURE-BASED INNOVATION Edited by Yoseph Bar-Cohen. She has received numerous requests to lecture in the U.S., Europe, and in Asia. She has authored over 80 technical papers and reports. She has 2 supersonic aircraft patents

Brenda is available for consulting and lecturing engagements through her AeBGeX enterprise. For more information and to contact Brenda, click here.

Profile of Brenda Kulfan


By Dan Dierda and Wilbur Middleton

Brenda attended St. Peter and Pauls Catholic Grade School in Grand Rapids Michigan, graduating in 1950. She attended Grand Rapids Catholic Central High School from 1950 to 1954 followed by enrollment in Grand Rapids Junior College. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor's degree in Aeronautical Engineering and was admitted to the University of Michigan Masters degree in Aeronautical Engineering. Brenda joined The Boeing Company in 1960.

In 1965, the aerodynamics staff unit contained some very fine supersonic aerodynamicists including Armand Sigalla, Ed Kane, Tom Hallstaff, Wilbur Middleton and Brenda Kulfan. The Super Sonic Transport (SST) was Boeing's most challenging project and employed many of Boeing's best engineers.

The SST project used a lot of wind tunnel time: low speed, transonic and supersonic. The focus of the supersonic group was to analyze, develop and test supersonic airplane configurations and the group went through many configurations. One of Brenda's tasks was to keep track of how well the group analyses compared to wind tunnel results, make test-theory comparisons, and to develop improved analysis methods. She had multiple notebooks full of such analyses (pre-databases). The computer runs were initiated from IBM punched card decks and the results came back in multiple 11x17 page outputs. Every team member had large stacks of such outputs and Brenda's was especially large.

The unit had two principle types of analyses: supersonic wave drag and supersonic wing design and drag-due-to-lift. Both used linear theory which Brenda was an expert in. Linear theory is a wonderful supersonic analysis technique, especially for slender shapes like the SST, but somewhat treacherous in application. Brenda was skilled at judging the quality of the analyses, and was forever acquiring more experience and skill at doing so. Theory was cross-checked with wind tunnel results whenever possible. A saying went: "nobody believes the wind tunnel results except the guy who does the work". Brenda spent many years developing her ability to do both jobs.

Brenda was famous for her desire to perform the "holy-grail" of wind tunnel testing, namely, trips only. In supersonic testing (low speed and transonic testing is more complicated), a turbulent boundary layer (to match full scale airplane conditions) is produced over the small scale model configuration by means of grit strip: a strip of tiny carborundum particles near all leading edges. Sizing and placement of the particles is an art, which Brenda was an expert at. Too big of particles is overkill and too small is ineffective. The object is to produce transition at the strip from laminar to turbulent boundary layer without incurring significant parasite drag from the strip itself. The group could never tell what was the parasite drag of the strip we were using. Brenda guessed at it which lead to her famous desire to test trips only in the wind tunnel.

The SST died horribly as a major project at Boeing in 1971. It continued as a research project with various levels of emphasis and funding from NASA and Boeing for many  years more. Brenda was a principal aerodynamicist and lead engineer in much of that work and developed and international reputation as a supersonic aerodynamicist. With the advent of supercomputers, the analyses performed were much more sophisticated than linear theory and Brenda was a principal engineer in applying them.


All articles written by Brenda Kulfan. Articles are organized into categories which can be selected from the list below and can be downloaded by clicking on the article name.

View Brenda on ResearchGate ›

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