U.Va. Engineering Students' Ideas Take Flight

July 13, 2007 -- A team of 28 University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science undergraduates won second place — and a $3,000 award — in the NASA-sponsored Fundamental Aeronautics Competition for their design of a compact, fast and fuel-efficient commercial transport system.

Fifteen teams from throughout the country and the world entered the competition. Winners were announced in June.

According to NASA, the competition offered college students an opportunity to propose solutions to fundamental challenges in four areas: hypersonic flight, supersonic flight, subsonic fixed wing transport and subsonic rotary wing transport. The Engineering School’s team, named “Caelus” for the ancient Roman god of the sky, tackled subsonic fixed-wing transport challenges.

Team Caelus was mentored by James C. McDaniel, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor who has led his aerospace design students to first-, second- or third-place wins in NASA-sponsored aeronautics competitions for the past decade. 

“It is never easy, but this year, in the subsonic fixed wing transport category, NASA wanted the ‘holy grail’ of aircraft designs,” says McDaniel. “The final preliminary design concept that the team submitted had to meet NASA’s competition requirements — a commercial transport system that could take off and land on only a 2,500-foot strip, cruise at a speed of Mach 0.8, lower mono-nitrogen oxides emissions produced during combustion, and seat 150 people.”

The design also had to include technology designed to lower noise levels and improve cruise performance using 25 percent less fuel than current transports of the same size.

Team Caelus’ solution included a blended wing body design, which works well for short take-off and landing strips. This constrained the interior configuration, which contained two decks — one for the requisite 150 passengers and one for cargo. In addition, the team chose to use a supercritical airfoil for the wing shape to reduce the shock wave drag and allow the aircraft to cruise efficiently at speeds of Mach 0.8. After a thorough literature review, the team’s engine was designed based on a new concept in low-emission combustion.

“These students had the opportunity to apply many of their engineering skills to one project — technical aptitude, design creativity, teamwork and leadership, as well as writing and communications skills, said James H. Aylor, dean of the Engineering School. “Their hard work and diligence may well influence the design of future aircraft.”

About the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science
Founded in 1836, the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science combines research and educational opportunities at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Within the undergraduate programs, courses in engineering, ethics, mathematics, the sciences and the humanities are available to build a strong foundation for careers in engineering and other professions. Its abundant research opportunities complement the curriculum and educate young men and women to become thoughtful leaders in technology and society. At the graduate level, the Engineering School collaborates with the University’s highly ranked medical and business schools on interdisciplinary research projects and entrepreneurial initiatives. With a distinguished faculty and a student body of 2,200 undergraduates and 700 graduate students, the Engineering School offers an array of engineering disciplines, including cutting-edge research programs in computer and information science, mechanical and aerospace engineering, bioengineering and nanotechnology. For more information, visit www.seas.virginia.edu.

About NASA’s Fundamental Aeronautics Competition

Through the Fundamental Aeronautics Competition, NASA continues its tradition of investing in the nation’s education. These efforts are directly tied to the agency's major education goal of attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. To compete effectively for the minds, imaginations and career ambitions of America’s young people, NASA is focused on engaging and retaining students in education efforts that encourage their pursuit of disciplines critical to NASA’s future engineering, scientific and technical missions. For more information and a listing of NASA’s 2007-2008 academic year aeronautics competitions, visit http://aero.larc.nasa.gov.