Skip to main content

ASU students place third in national aircraft design challenge

September 30, 2013

A team of ASU engineering students in the College of Technology and Innovation came in third place for the Federal Aviation Administration Design Competition for the Electric/Hybrid-Electric Aircraft Technology Challenge, outdoing teams from around the country with their innovative electric aircraft engine design.

Sponsored by Honeywell, the team was tasked with the challenge of conceptually designing an electric or hybrid-electric jet aircraft engine for a regional commercial aircraft. The team submitted two concepts to the competition: a near-term, current-technology design and a more-forward-thinking, long-term solution.

Challenge stipulations included designing an aircraft capable of a 500 nautical mile range with the ability to carry 25-50 passengers. Additionally, the design should be feasible to manufacture, considering technological advances available within the next 10-12 years. Competition judges considered operation and maintenance cost, environmental impact and changes that airports may need to make in order to accommodate an electric aircraft.

The team’s first, more viable idea consisted of a design that could be feasible within the next 10 years, according to team mentor and professor Pavlos Mikellides. The hybrid design replaces the turbine with electrical power generation, thereby driving an aircraft’s compressor by electrical means. This system costs about as much as conventional aircraft systems, but is slightly more efficient, less costly to operate and substantially more environmentally friendly.

The second idea implements similar technology as the first design, but it instead uses energy from an electrical discharge to charge a high-voltage battery, which in turn drives the compressor. Mikellides says this magnetohydrodynamic drive is a far-term concept in terms of feasibility, but it is a design with much more promise and innovation.

“I don’t see this second concept being feasible for at least 20 years because the underlying science and technological implementation are not as well mastered as the first design,” he said. “Despite that, it is astounding that this group of students could come up with such a forward-thinking design.”

Mikellides says team members were excited to work on a project that is unchartered territory for most engineers, yet despite these challenges, the team continually thought outside the box for the year-long project.

“The first electric hybrid aircraft that will perhaps be introduced to the world will have elements of our first design,” he said. “Our students are on top of new technologies in this field and I will not be surprised to someday see an electric aircraft on the market that incorporates their design concepts.”

As part of the college's iProject program, the team collaborated with Honeywell in designing each electric jet engine concept. Students periodically shared their design with engineers at Honeywell, who provided guidance and industry suggestions to the team.

“Industry experience is critical in guiding the project to a more pragmatic conclusion,” Mikellides said. “Honeywell was instrumental in our success because they brought in real-life experiences that we sometimes cannot address academically.”

The team comprised of engineering, aeronautical engineering and electrical engineering technology students: Scott Bittner, Sean Day, Ryan England, Matthew Engquist, Kurt Henry, Leixin Lin, Michael Looper and Chase Wheeler.

Written by Sydney B. Donaldson, College of Technology and Innovation