The Vertical Flight Society (VFS) has announced the winners of its 39th Annual Student Design Competition with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute taking first place in the Graduate category and University of Maryland in the Undergraduate category.

In addition, a team of four schools in Turkey — Erciyes, Eskisehir Osmangazi, Necmettin Erbakan and Samsun Universities — took Best New Undergraduate Entrant honours. Bell was the sponsor of this year’s competition with a total of $12,500 in prize money.

Academic teams from around the world submitted entries in this year’s competition, with a total of 14 proposals from four different countries. The 2021-2022 Student Design Competition was entitled, ‘eVTOL Air Taxi for Passengers with Reduced Mobility (PRM)’.

The goal of this year was to develop an aircraft that supports PRM customers, and the UK charity Aerobility provided advice and support on the competition parameters.

Teams had to design the cockpit, cabin and baggage compartment to accommodate a single pilot and no less than two passengers with disabilities, or alternative seating of four passengers with full mobility.

The winning teams for the graduate category are Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York with USA Oliwhoper, University of Maryland College Park USA with Starling, and Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta USA with Balto.

Oliwhoper has an accessible cabin design, effective aerodynamic performance, spacious cabin design and carefully designed lighting, handholds and audio cues for anyone with mobility, visual or auditory challenges.

The vehicle design allows for operators to service customers at a variety of locations, without the need for specialised ground equipment using an efficient lift + cruise design, which maximises the performance advantages of distributed electric propulsion, while maintaining the redundancy and control authority expected from modern aircraft.

The University of Maryland was the winning undergraduate team, with ‘Blitzen’ (German for lightning and also the name of the mythical flying reindeer). Blitzen follows an energy-efficient lift-and-thrust-compounding single main rotor design with a
fixed wing and swivelling rotor-prop that provides anti-torque in hover and forward thrust in cruise.

Sponsorship rotates between Airbus, Bell, Boeing, Bell, Leonardo, Sikorsky and the US Army Research Laboratory. For nearly 80 years, VFS has provided global leadership for scientific, technical, educational and legislative initiatives that advance the state of the art of vertical flight.