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Students Disrupt Worlds of Aviation and Astronautics

The AIAA Design Competition is sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. It offers graduate and undergraduate students around the globe an opportunity to submit innovations and designs to compete with their peers, and lets them become the disruptors of tomorrow in the world of aviation and astronautics.

David W. Levy is the director of Technology at Sierra Nevada Corp. and the chair for the AIAA Aircraft Design Technical Committee. We spoke to him to better understand the competition.

Digital Engineering: Can you provide an overview of the AIAA Aircraft Design competition, how it started and the program’s intent?

David Levy: The yearly competitions are restricted to undergraduate and graduate university level individuals and teams in the U.S. and abroad. They offer a great opportunity for students to participate in a simulated real-world problem, allowing them to gain experience and receive useful and constructive feedback from technical experts who sit on AIAA Technical Committees.

Several of the competitions allow students to perform theoretical work and gain real-world insight into the design process. Whether students are designing an aircraft, engine or space vehicle, they will go through all of the primary design steps involved in determining a solution to a request for proposal (RFP). This includes determining a hypothetical solution, testing the hypothesis, evaluating its effectiveness, doing some cost analysis and preparing a report to submit in response to the RFP. These responses are reviewed by experts in the field who provide constructive responses to the students.

DE: Can you describe one of the winning designs and what the design intent was?

Levy: According to the winner of Georgia Institute of Technology’s winning proposal, they pursued a design for the light aircraft market. They stated that to successfully enter this market, there needs to be some niche within which the aircraft occupies.

It was discovered that today’s jets capable of carrying six to eight people cannot operate out of airports with runways less than 3,000 feet. Improving takeoff performance in this regime drastically improves U.S. airport access and differentiates this plane from the rest of the market. Many light business jet operators do not operate larger jets because they seek an excellent value aircraft that can access more domestic airports. Short takeoff performance is key to making these airplanes as versatile as possible and it meets another primary design goal.

The final aircraft configuration was a standard composite fuselage with a swept low-wing and tail. Both the six and eight seaters were identical except for a small change in the fuselage and flight controller, resulting in 94% part-commonality by weight. Short takeoff performance was achieved with a high thrust-to-weight ratio and multiple high-lift devices. This resulted in takeoff performance that allowed the Coronis aircraft to access 28% more airports compared to jets in the same category. Preliminary design analysis was validated with finite element analysis (FEA), computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and extended vortex-lattice models. Based on the aircraft weight, complexity and performance, the Eastlake cost model estimates the aircraft to be priced competitively to various aircraft of similar maximum takeoff weight.

DE: Can you tell us about some of the designs that are part of the event and how they came to be?

Levy: The specifications for the designs are created each year by members of the AIAA Technical Committees. The RFP will describe the mission for the aircraft, payload to be carried, performance requirements and other pertinent information. Then the airplane design is completely up to the students. AIAA only provides the RFPs and then judges the entries.

About Jim Romeo

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, VA. Send e-mail about this article to DE-Editors@digitaleng.news.