U.Va. Engineering Students Win NASA Aircraft Design Contest

July 24, 2009 — A team of University of Virginia undergraduate engineering students tied for first place – alongside a team of graduate students from the Georgia Institute of Technology – in a NASA-sponsored contest to design a supersonic airliner.

NASA challenged participants from colleges in the United States, Japan and India to design a small supersonic commercial airliner that would be efficient and environmentally sound, while producing a low sonic boom. Another requirement: The airliner could be ready for initial service by 2020.

The 13-member U.Va. team from the School of Engineering and Applied Science tied for first place in the U.S. division. A University of Tokyo undergraduate team won top honors in the non-U.S. category.

"This design was completed during a two-semester aerospace capstone design class in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering," said Jim McDaniel, professor of aerospace engineering and faculty adviser for the project. "These aerospace undergraduate students devoted a lot of time and energy to this design project, as is evident in their success in this international competition."

NASA engineers judged the entries on how well students addressed all aspects of their problems. The judges looked for innovation and creativity, feasibility, a review of pertinent literature, and a baseline comparison with current technology, system or design.

"I can't imagine a better form of closure for two semesters of the most grueling work and longest hours," said Jesse Quinlan, the U.Va. design team leader who graduated this spring with a degree in aerospace engineering and a minor in applied mathematics. "Being awarded first-place honors for our design concept not only signifies the depth of technical work to which we committed ourselves, but it also represents the level to which aerospace engineers aspire at the University."

Quinlan is now preparing to pursue a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech, where he will focus on the systems and architectures necessary to establish human presence on the moon and Mars. This summer he is on an internship at the National Institute of Aerospace in Hampton and at NASA headquarters, where he is devising an implementation plan for participatory exploration for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.

"With a perfect mix of University-fostered inspiration and innate determination, the graduating class of aerospace engineers is prepared to become the field's next generation of thinkers and leaders," he said.

Winning participants received prizes, including up to $5,000 per team, and will be invited to a student forum at the Fundamental Aeronautics Conference sponsored by NASA.

"We use these competitions to generate excitement for aeronautics and the engineering behind aviation," said Peter Coen, principal investigator of the Supersonics Project at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton. "I was impressed by the quality and innovative thinking demonstrated in the designs."

U.Va. team members were Christie Alston, Emily Baldwin, Gaetano Esposito, Arthur Fournie, Roy Hayes, Calvin Johnson, Seth McLellan, Long Nguyen, Patrick O'Malley, David Petkofsky, Jesse Quinlan, Brian Rice and Johannes Weppler.

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— By Fariss Samarrai