Airliners of Tomorrow — As Students See Them
A NASA competition asking college students to design a next-generation equivalent of the famed Douglas DC-3 transport aircraft has generated a strong international response and a standard of entries high enough to impress senior NASA scientists.
Altogether, 61 students from 14 colleges and universities around the globe submitted design concepts for the next generation of small airliners and cargo planes. Entries came from 14 teams and two individual students.
"The invention, imagination and engineering exhibited in these college proposals was extraordinary, and in parts superior to the concepts prevalent in the current professional literature. These entries bode well for the future of civilian aeronautics," said Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
Bushnell was one of several NASA experts who judged the competition. The judges graded the designs on criteria including creativity and imagination, feasibility and cost analysis, and comprehensive discussion of the design concept.
The contest asked students to design a subsonic transport aircraft for the mid-21st-century that could carry from 25,000 pounds to 50,000 pounds of payload and operate from runways between 1,500 and 3,000 feet long. Effectively such an aircraft would offer many of the same capabilities as the venerable DC-3, which now has been in service for more than 70 years.
However, NASA's competition required that, unlike the slow DC-3, students' designs for the small transport of tomorrow should cruise at speeds between 595 mph and 625 mph about the average speed of jet airliners today. All designs were to be capable of carrying either passengers or cargo.
The competition, sponsored by NASA's Fundamental Aeronautics Program, part of the agency's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, also stressed that concept planes should use alternative fuels and be quieter and more environmentally friendly than today's commercial fleet.
An eight-person team from Georgia Tech in Atlanta took first place among graduate-team entries, with an imaginative biplane concept that used both forward- and rear-swept staggered wings, each of which was linked to ducted fans at the wingtips.
Undergraduate-team honors went to the STINGRAE concept submitted by a six-person team from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. The QUEIA concept submitted by a four-person team from the University of Miami won second place, and the PUMA short-takeoff-and-landing transport jet design submitted by an eight-person team from Ohio State University took third place. A two-student team from the University of Central Florida gained an honorable mention with its X-TS Advanced Multirole Aircraft entry.
Solo student Gary Redman from the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, took first place among international entrants with his Oionos 43 33 concept.
"The nation's air transportation system is under tremendous pressure to increase performance and capacity without causing additional damage to the environment," said Juan Alonso, director of the Fundamental Aeronautics Program. "Through competitions such as this, we are nurturing a new generation of engineers who can deliver the solutions we so desperately need."
As part of the competition, six U.S. students received a 10-week paid summer internship at one of four NASA research centers around the country. Non-U.S. student winners received an engraved trophy and certificate.
The competition was part of an annual series run by NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. The directorate will announce the topic for next year's competition by the end of this summer.
MORE FROM SPACE.com