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U.Va. Aerospace Engineering Students Receive First Place in FAA Competition

A 16-member undergraduate student team from the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science has won an international design competition.

The team’s design, “The Sustinere: A Turboelectric Distributed Propulsion Regional Jet for 2025,” took first place in the Federal Aviation Administration's Electric/Hybrid-Electric Aircraft Technology Challenge, tying with a team of graduate students from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The U.Va. team members included Matthew Abelmann, Sohail Ahmad, Thomas Arnot, Clifton Bumgardner, Brian Connolly, Daniel Flowers, Stefan Ha, Jane Hawkins, Aaron Lam, Frederick Lothers, Stephen Moore, Chris Reuter, T. Brandon Smith, Sean Thompson, Kha Tran and Jodi Yim.

“The students designed a regional aircraft, carrying 50 passengers at Mach 0.72 for 500 miles and to be in service by 2025,” said James McDaniel, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and mentor to the team. “The goals of the design were to reduce emissions, noise and fuel burn relative to today’s regional aircraft.

“The most innovative part of their design was the propulsion system, which used turboelectric generators under the wings, with cryogenically cooled electric transmission lines, to banks of thrust-producing fans mounted on the aft of the fuselage.”

The students will receive their prize Wednesday at the FAA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and will present their design at an Airport Consultants Council and Transportation Security Administration summer workshop series in Arlington on Thursday. They may also present their design at the Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise Consortium meeting in November.

“The design was well-written with outstanding supporting information and an excellent open-minded methodology that resulted in an original approach to hybrid electric propulsion for a regional aircraft,” said Lourdes Maurice, executive director of the Office of Environment and Energy at the FAA.

McDaniel, who will attend the awards ceremony with some of the students, said the judges were impressed by the skills of the U.Va. students.

“What really impressed the reviewers is that the Georgia Tech team was a graduate student team, with three well-known aircraft designers as instructors, whereas my class was composed of all undergraduate students and I was the sole instructor,” McDaniel said.

Sohail Ahmad, an aerospace engineering and engineering business major who graduated in May and will soon be working as a project manager for SNL Financial, said the overall concept should improve the noise, emissions and performance of regional aircraft for commercial service by 2025.

“It’s a privilege to have our work recognized on this level, especially when you’re competing against a school like Georgia Tech that has an outstanding aerospace department,” Ahmad said. “Receiving this prize was the icing on the cake to all the hard work and dedication displayed by our team throughout this year and during the last four years. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending.”

Stefan Ha, who also earned his aerospace engineering degree in May, said he was pleased that the team’s efforts have paid off.

“We had several group meetings and teleconferences in determining the final design and receiving the award meant that the judges acknowledged our hard work,” he said. “U.Va.’s aircraft design class is also known for placing high in competitions in the past 10 years and it’s good for our class to keep up the reputation of achievement.”

“We are a small program, but have excellent students and a strong curriculum,” McDaniel said. “This recognition will help to recruit the best students to our aerospace program.”

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