A team from the University of Stuttgart won the German part of this year's NASA/DLR Design Challenge for their HyBird design on 1 August 2019. This year is the third in which the student competition has taken place, and was dedicated to connecting remote regions of the Earth with major metropolises. The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and the US space agency NASA called upon students from technical universities in Germany and the United States to participate in the ideas competition. The closing ceremony for the teams in Germany was hosted by the Center of Applied Aeronautical Research (ZAL) in Hamburg.
Reaching Earth's rural regions in a cost-effective, environment-friendly way
Establishing flight routes to remote regions is highly difficult to accomplish cost-effectively due to low passenger volumes. In such cases, dual use as a crewed passenger aircraft by day and an uncrewed cargo aircraft by night could provide a solution. However, many technical factors need to be considered: Can the weight, geometry and drive technology of an aircraft be optimised in such a way that small aircraft with low-carbon and emission systems are able to achieve a sufficient range? Can this be done with fully electric propulsion systems? Or are hybrid systems with supporting gas or fuel cell technology required to provide maximum power at take-off?
Tackling this problem requires fresh ideas and concepts for small, eco-efficient aircraft. "This is the objective that we are pursuing with the Design Challenge, together with our colleagues in aviation at NASA. We want to encourage students on technical courses to think outside the box, be innovative and think laterally. They should not simply further develop what already exists, but also break completely new ground in aircraft design,” says Henke, Chairman of the jury. "Today, design is again an especially important factor in aviation. New elements such as electrification and automation are highly complex and require cutting-edge concepts."
Of all the high-quality entries, the DLR jury was most impressed by the concept from the University of Stuttgart. With their well-founded market analysis, the fulfilment of all design criteria, a clever combination of technologies and the creative configuration of the HyBird, the team had the decisive lead. The HyBird design features an aircraft with high wing configuration with a Coanda flap system, a V-tail, and conventional fuselage. The jury rated the choice of a hybrid propulsion system with two turbines for power generation and the option of switching off a system during cruising as a very innovative approach to energy efficiency. This opens up the possibility of low consumption, especially at cruising speed. A ‘battery boost’ of up to 180 kilowatts enable a fully electric take-off. The students also reduced noise emissions through the position and size of the drives. The members of the jury were also impressed by the students’ realistic calculations for operating costs, and ideas for easily converting a commuter aircraft to a cargo configuration were the cherry on top.
The team from RWTH Aachen came in second place with their aDEPt design. Third place was shared by the teams from TU Berlin for their MIRUS concept, TU Dresden with Xargo and TU Hamburg with rAPID, which were all strong designs with numerous innovative aspects, well-founded calculations and analysis, and fresh new ideas. The short videos that the teams produced to supplement the media presentation of their teams and concepts were a particular highlight this year. The jury was impressed with the quality of the designs, with particular praise going to the impressive videos and presentations by TU Berlin and TU Hamburg.