The University of Michigan has won the Vertical Flight Society’s inaugural Design-Build-Vertical Flight competition, which was created to help prepare the next generation of engineers and leaders for the emerging eVTOL and advanced air mobility (AAM) markets.

A total of seven academic teams submitted entries after being asked to build a general aircraft with requirements restricted to the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) Group 1, which limited the maximum take-off weight to no more than 20lb (9.1kg).

Although restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the fly-off portion of the competition, each team submitted a final technical report and made a virtual presentation of their design and findings to a panel of judges from April 15th-16th.

For winning the competition, the University of Michigan was awarded $2,000. The University of Maryland came second and was awarded $1,000, while Ohio State University received $500 for finishing in third place.

Honourable mentions from the judges were also given to McGill University in Montreal for ‘Best Drawing Package’, and Oregon State University for ‘Most Creative’. Pennsylvania State University were mentioned in ‘Best Computational Simulation and Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in the ‘Most Manufacturable’ category.

Mike Hirschberg, Executive Director of the Vertical Flight Society, said: “All of the student teams did really impressive work. Not only did they come up with exciting aircraft designs that had to meet the demanding competition requirements, they also had to deal with all the restrictions and uncertainty caused by COVID-19. They now are better prepared for designing real-life rotorcraft and eVTOL aircraft.”

A total of $5,500 was awarded by VFS during the competition. In addition to the $3,500 in final awards, $2,000 had been awarded previously. In December 2020, each of the seven teams submitted preliminary design report with the University of University being awarded $750 for coming first.

Oregon State University and Ohio State University finished joint second and received $500, while the University of Maryland being awarded $250 for coming third.

The Vertical Flight Society had intended to hold the competition during the same timeframe at the US Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Army Research Laboratory (ARL) Robotics Research Collaboration Campus (R2C2) near Aberdeen in Maryland.

ARL signed a five-year Educational Partnership Agreement with VFS earlier this year in order to host the event and collaborate on vertical flight education outreach initiatives.

Preparations are already underway for next year’s competition, with universities from around the world encouraged to form teams and take part. The flight testing portion of the competition is planned to take place on the ARL R2C2 site in spring 2022. More details will be announced later this year.