Another student competition for designing an air tanker has concluded. It was only last week when we had an article about the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Foundation’s Team Aircraft Design Competition.
A similar event concluded several months ago titled “Extending Aviation’s Public Benefit” sponsored by NASA. Their concept for the competition was based on the assumption that Urban Air Mobility (UAM) and Regional Air Mobility (RAM) aircraft offer the potential to create large production runs of small airframes for moving cargo and people, but derivatives or modifications of these aircraft could serve other public purposes. These vehicles are being designed to have very short or vertical takeoff and landings, low community noise, high utilization rates, and rapid deployment.
Here is an excerpt from the design requirements:
Teams are requested to design a suite of vehicles that can collectively deliver 3000 gallons of water to a fire location in a single pass. The number of vehicles and payload per vehicle is up to the team and should be part of the initial concept of operations.
The vehicles must be able to gather water from local water sources (lakes, rivers, oceans). Many water sources are small and require Very Short Takeoff and Landing (VSTOL) operations. Currently, helicopters are used to reach these small water sources and this vehicle should be able to access similarly small or tree-enclosed bodies of water. Vehicles will be scored such that the combined balanced takeoff and landing distance should be minimized. For reference, the water source and fire are located at an altitude of 3500 ft (MSL). Temperatures are hot, standard day +10 °C. Teams should consider how the vehicles collect the water, i.e. via scoop during a pass over the water; landing on the water to pump water into a collection tank; or some other method the teams devise.
Each vehicle must be able to be operated either remotely or by a single pilot. The vehicles must be able to takeoff, land, and refill at night and in low visibility operations. Accuracy is essential in dropping water; therefore, the vehicle must autocorrect for current wind conditions.
The aircraft would have an entry into service date in 2030.
Winners were announced for first, second, and third places, plus honorable mention.
First Place: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VA Tech), Blacksburg, VA
Their concept for delivering 3,000 gallons of water was to have a fleet of four water-scooping, singly-piloted, turbo-electric hybrid aircraft each carrying up to 750 gallons.
Two turboshaft engines drive electric generators mounted towards the top-rear of the fuselage, providing improved airflow during scoop maneuvers. This powertrain drives the ten distributed electric propulsion motors and two cruise motors. The generators charge a set of high-discharge batteries for use during VSTOL operations. When the ten smaller motors are inactive their props would fold.
The team estimates the selling price of one aircraft would be $5.8 million; the total number manufactured needed to get that price was not specified in the two page executive summary (above).
Instead of a 750-gallon tank, another version of the aircraft could carry up to eight passengers.
2nd Place: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VA Tech), Blacksburg, VA.
The Iris, getting second place, consists of one remotely piloted lead plane and eight air tankers. It presumably carries up to 375 gallons each to meet the design criteria of 3,000 gallons, but that was not clear in the two-page abstract. It has a turboelectric propulsion system while “allowing for future electrification as battery technology advances past the entry into service date in 2030.”
Iris two-page abstract.
3rd Place: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VA Tech), Blacksburg, VA
The Fire Fighting Gobbler team designed the Flock, a system of six remotely piloted eVSTOL aircraft which could conduct several sorties before returning to base to swap batteries. It would be capable of taking off and landing on small lakes in 360 ft and 440 ft respectively.
Firefighting Gobbler two page abstract
Honorable Mention: University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Few details are in the University of Minnesota’s short abstract, but it would be unmanned “pending future developments in the realm of unmanned aerial vehicles.”
University of Minnesota two page abstract
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Gerald.