Military, Products, Training

Unmanned Heli-Fast and Manned Manta Win AHS Student Design Competition

By By Andrew Drwiega, International Bureau Chief | September 4, 2014
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Nibbio aircraft by Politecnico di Milano

The winners of the American Helicopter Society (AHS) International 31st Student Design Competition were St. Louis University (SLU) in the undergraduate category and Georgia Institute of Technology in the graduate category.

The challenge set by AHS for the 2014 Student Design Competition was to design an experimental Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft – an X-VTOL – intended to establish key performance attributes to enable transformational mission capabilities on an objective aircraft.


Requirements included: sustained hover, long-range cruise, high useful loads and sustained flight at airspeeds between 300-400 kts (555–740 km). In other words around three times faster than today’s helicopters. To assist the entrants, Advanced Rotorcraft Technology (ART) sponsored the use of its FLIGHTLAB software to allow students to simulate their designs flight characteristics. 


Undergraduate winner – Heli-Fast

St. Louis University’s winning entry was Heli-Fast, an unmanned flying wing aircraft with an embedded fan and tilting wing-tip fans. SLU’s objective was to improve VTOL flight through the interchange of rotary and fixed-wing knowledge which resulted in a flying wing with ducted fans.

The team was initially trending towards a conventional fixed wing aircraft, similar to the Ryan XV-5 according to the team’s executive summary, but then veered back to a technology demonstrator that would be unmanned and incorporate six-bladed, five-ft diameter ducted fans located at the wing tips that can rotate around 90 degrees.

Georgia Tech’s XV-58 design took the prize for the graduate category. Images courtesy AHS International

There would be a smaller three-ft fan on the aircraft’s nose which would be closed once forward flight was achieved. The engines selected were two GE YT706-700R which would provide 7,000 lb of thrust. The total weight of the vehicle would be 12,000 lbs. The team examined scalability and assert that the design could be reduced to 4,000 lbs or increased up to 24,000 lbs.

Georgia Institute of Technology came in second in the undergraduate category with The Hammerhead. The school also came in third place with Project Raven. Eleven undergraduate teams entered this year’s competition.


Graduate winner – XV-58 Manta

In the graduate design category, Georgia Tech again took the spotlight, but this time as the winning design with the XV-58 Manta, a manned fan-in-wing design which resembles a manta ray. It features two fixed pusher props in the rear.

This would be a manned (three crew - two pilots and one flight engineer), fly-by-wire, fan-in-wing design shaped like a manta ray, with two fixed pusher props in the rear.

The engines selected were two GE CT7-8s which should allow for a maximum speed of 368 kts (682 km/h). The in-wing fans would be 8 ft in diameter. The Manta would have a hover ceiling of 11,350 ft and a service ceiling of 43,250 ft. Maximum take-off weight would be 12,207 lbs.

In terms of scalability, the executive summary states that scaling down 'isn’t easy' but that larger gross weights would result in 'superior performance.'

Second place in the graduate category went to the Politecnico di Milano entry with its Caurus-NIBBIO design, with third being awarded to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with its Emperor unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Seven teams entered this category.

AHS International executive director Michael J. Hirschberg stated: “This was one of our most exciting design competitions to date. It attracted 28 teams, including schools from Canada, India, Italy, Mexico, the U.S. and the UK. We hope that the publicity generated from these awards will encourage even more schools to compete in the future.”

Two members of each of the first-place teams have been invited to AHS International’s 71st Annual Forum and Technology Display (May 5-7) 2015 in Virginia Beach, Va.

St. Louis University won the accolade of best new entrant in the undergraduate category and Politecnico di Milano as best new entrant for the graduate category.

In addition, the award sponsor, AgustaWestland, has increased the total prize money by nearly three times – from $3,500 to $10,000 – plus $2,000 in travel stipends.

The U.S. Army will sponsor next year’s student design competition.

Related: Unmanned News

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