Student engineers answer NASA’s call to design the airplane of 2058.
- By Michael Klesius
- AirSpaceMag.com, August 06, 2008
(Page 3 of 3)
“QUEIA and the Boeing 737-800 have comparable maximum payloads,” he says. “QUEIA, however, uses about half of the fuel load while having a range 2,000 nautical miles superior to the 737-800. This is incredibly desirable as the cost of oil continues to rise.”
Even one of the more conventional designs, submitted by eight sophomores from Ohio State University, turned ordinary notions of airliners upside-down. Called PUMA (no acronym, just a big cat with a big leap), their 125-passenger short-take-off-and-landing airplane carries its two General Electric CF34-10 turbofans mounted above the wing as a hedge against ingesting foreign objects. And the aircraft is super light due to the use of composites such as carbon/epoxy compounds and Weldalite 049, a lithium-aluminum alloy, which allows it to use short runways.
“The airline industry is primed for another revolution as consumers demand better fuel economy, greater access to smaller airports, and reduced environmental impact,” says team member Kevin Disotell. “Our team came to see that all of these challenges are fundamentally connected to one another.” Disotell says the entire team entered the competition having completed only an introductory aerospace engineering course. They still placed third. “The learning curve for fundamental design concepts was certainly steep with our inexperience,” he says, “but we came to understand that the design process is a science in itself. Design is just like playing an instrument—one only gets better at it through practice and iteration.”
It can also have financial rewards. The first place teams in the NASA college contest divvied up $5,000 each; second and third place teams won $3,000 and $2,000 respectively. International students will receive engraved plaques. And six U.S. students received a 10-week paid summer internship at NASA’s Ames, Dryden, Glenn, or Langley Research Centers. Depending on the center and its regional cost of living, the internships were valued between $6,500 and $8,500, a taste of the income students can expect from a career in aerospace engineering.
Australian Gary Redman won first place in the international college category with an aircraft he named OIONOS for the birds of prey the ancient Greeks watched to foretell the future. A commuter, his design seats 24 passengers clustered beneath an enormous canopy that floods the cabin with natural light. The cockpit, which looks something like an eel protruding from the right side of the plane, is separated entirely from the cabin for an added measure of security.
“The aviation design industry in Australia is moribund,” says Redman. “Aviation in Australia has declined to the point that we as a nation have become an outpost for singular parts manufacture and aircraft repair. This competition allowed me to show that Australian universities turn out students as good as anywhere. Consequently, instead of having 200 million people in front of me, I now am one of 20 or so students showing a direction for the future of aviation.”
Keep an eye on the Langley Research Center’s website for news of the 2008-2009 competition—the Fundamental Aeronautics Program will announce the terms of the contest by September 1. So far, they’ve allowed only that they’ll be looking for supersonic designs.