Propulsion design leader Vanessa Awaté put emerging technologies to work in developing the future aircraft of 2045 and, together with rest of the University of Virginia team, won 1st place in the NASA Aeronautics University Design Challenge 2017-2018.

While present-day engineers try to eke out an increase in efficiency of a few percent for aircraft design, Awaté, a 2018 aerospace engineering graduate, and her team were charged with achieving an 80 percent increase in efficiency, among other daunting specifications of the NASA challenge. Awaté led fellow students to accomplish this goal by doing a thorough analysis of evolving research and then incorporating components that would likely be realized into the design, including future state-of-the-art propulsion, electrical and fuel systems.

The propulsion system for the aircraft is termed “hybrid turboelectric distributed” propulsion. It is a hybrid system since it uses a combination of turbojets and electric fans to reduce both noise and pollution. Gas turbines are located on the wing tips and turn turbogenerators, but don’t produce thrust. The electrical output from the turbo-generators travels over superconducting cables to DC invertors to run electric motors, which produce the thrust. The turbofans are distributed inside their housing to reduce noise and to provide lateral control. The aircraft also operates on algae-based biofuels, which have been demonstrated to be very efficient, and will replace gas-based fuels in the future.

The University of Virginia aerospace engineering student design teams have won or placed in the NASA Aeronautics University Design Challenge almost every year over the past decade, led by Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor Jim McDaniel.

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Vanessa Awate