September 27, 2017 | Design competition for the aircraft of the future

DLR and NASA acknowledge students' award-winning aircraft concepts at a joint symposium at Langley Research Center

  • Aircraft of the future featuring quiet supersonic flight, lightweight construction and low emissions
  • German winning team from TU Munich presents the concept behind the highly efficient and quiet short-haul aircraft 'Urban-liner'
  • US-American winners score points with the quiet, lightweight supersonic 'Nimbus' and the innovative turbo-electric powered manta-ray shaped 'Gryphon'
  • Focus: Aeronautics

Aerospace students are constantly coming up with new ideas, hoping to achieve a breakthrough design for the aircraft of the future. The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and US space agency NASA organised a joint student competition that put two specific challenges forward: Take aviation technology in new directions with novel ideas and develop aircraft designs that reinvent passenger flight beyond the sound barrier or that are revolutionarily quiet and low-emission. The winners presented their work at a joint symposium attended by recognised aviation researchers at NASA's Langley Research Center. The German team from TU Munich won for their ‘Urban Liner’ concept.

"The joint design competition once again demonstrates our excellent cooperation with NASA in aeronautics research," says Rolf Henke, DLR Executive Board Member for Aeronautics research. "The diversity of ideas and concepts from both sides of the Atlantic is impressive and demonstrates the power of joint initiatives to provide new solutions for greener air transport with less noise and emissions." The DLR part of the challenge totaled 63 students from seven German universities. The NASA part included 167 students from 12 United States universities. "To solve aviation challenges in the United States and around the world, NASA and partners like the DLR need a highly skilled and motivated aeronautics workforce", comments NASA Associate Administrator for Aeronautics Jaiwon Shin. "To that end we sponsor activities, like this challenge, that connect students with real-world NASA research goals and with unique NASA experiences."

In addition to design proposals for quieter flights, the competition also called for efficient supersonic jets. The conceived aircraft should be able to transport at least 200 passengers, or 12 in the case of the supersonic aircraft, and be implemented by 2035. Participating teams from Germany and the United States each chose one of the topics for their competition entry.

Revolutionarily quiet and low-emission flying

The German winning team from TU Munich made it to the award ceremony in Braunschweig with their 'Urban Liner', an unusual-looking aircraft with a hybrid drive. The most striking feature is the single engine, which is attached at the rear between the tailplanes. This configuration reduces fuel consumption by 50 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by as much as 80 percent, according to the analysis of the Munich students, who are taking part in the symposium at NASA Langley Research Center. There, they met five winning teams from the United States. "We are proud to present our 'Urban Liner' at NASA in this special setting," says team leader Christian Decher, who has travelled here with his fellow students and team colleagues Daniel Metzler and Soma Varga. "We have consciously and consistently worked on designing an aircraft with lower noise and emissions in our concept."

In the NASA part of the competition, the winner in the subsonic low noise category was the 'GRYPHON' by students from Columbia University in New York. GRYPHON is a ray-shaped 'blended wing body', which is equipped with distinctive, high-efficiency narrow wings. Completing the award-winning concept is an integrated turbo-electric propulsion system that is distributed over the entire body and uses boundary layer ingestion to reduce drag.

Supersonic challenge

An innovative concept for a supersonic aircraft – an environmental successor to Concorde as it were– was presented by a team from the University of Stuttgart in the German competition and awarded third place there. The concept 'HELESA' proposes a long-stretched aircraft with distinctive variable forward swept wings. On the US side, the concept 'Nimbus', submitted by students from Virginia Tech won in this category. The supersonic business jet features cranked delta wings, a pronounced lightweight design, as well as sonic boom mitigation and airport noise reduction.

Long-standing cooperation

Germany and the United States have been working closely together in the field of aerospace systems for a long time. In aeronautics research, both partners are particularly involved in joint research projects in the areas of air traffic management, low-noise and low-emission flying, as well as joint test flights that investigate alternative aviation fuels.

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Falk Dambowsky

Head of Media Relations, Editor
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Linder Höhe, 51147 Cologne
Tel: +49 2203 601-3959

Karen L. Rugg

ARMD Lead for Communications/Education
National Space Administration (NASA)
ARMD Lead for Communications/Education
ARMD Lead for Communications/Education