Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Oliwhoper (concept design)
Oliwhoper (concept design)
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy, New York, USA
The Vertical Flight Society's (based in Fairfax, Virginia, USA) annual Student Design Competition began in 1984 and challenges students at colleges and universities around the world to design a vertical lift aircraft that meets specified requirements, provides a practical exercise for engineering students and promotes student interest in vertical flight technology. Each of the winning teams is awarded a cash stipend, while each of the first-place winning teams are invited with complimentary registration, to the Vertical Flight Society's Annual Forum and Technology Display to present the details of their designs.
In August 2021, the Vertical Flight Society announced its 39th Annual Student Design Competition. The student objective was to design an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxi aircraft for to accommodate all passengers, including passengers with reduced mobility. This would include designing an aircraft to accommodate people with any type of disability, including hidden disabilities. The competition was sponsored by Bell (based in Fort Worth, Texas, USA). The winners of the 39th Annual Student Design Competition were announced on August 22, 2022.
“These are the leaders of the future vertical lift industry,” said Mike Hirschberg, executive director of the Vertical Flight Society. “We hope this experience will change them and, through the visibility of this competition, also change people who are in the eVTOL industry today.” To date, eVTOL concepts have focused on feasibility, safety, airworthiness and efficiency. But as developers clear those hurdles, the goal is to ensure electric aircraft can transport anyone and everyone, including persons with reduced mobility, visible or hidden disabilities.
The graduate student design team from from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (USA) included Richard Healy (Team Captain), Abhishek Chopra, Alexander Stillman, Anubhav Halder, Gaurav Makkar, Matthew Bahr and a faculty advisor. In the graduate category of the competition, the design team won 1st Place for their Oliwhoper eVTOL passenger air taxi aircraft. The team's Executive Summary is here online.
The student team first started the project by thinking of an enlarged mini-van because that was the closest size of vehicle the team could think of that would fit the specifications of the contest. The team decided to use a universal design approach, meaning that if you design the aircraft for multiple people who have very specific mobility needs, then these design feature will improve the experience for all passengers. Therefore, big windows, easy-to-use doors and lots of handles (and larger handles) will help everyone.
The aircraft has one pilot and can carry a maximum of four passengers without disabilities or has a maximum of two passengers who have reduced mobility. The estimated cruise speed of the aircraft is 173 mph (278 km/h), it has a maximum speed of 219 mph (352 km/h) and its cruise altitude is over 3,280 ft (over 1,000 m). The estimated maximum takeoff weight of the aircraft 4,403 lb (1,997 kg).
The aircraft has a total of 18 propellers, with 16 dedicated VTOL propellers. There are two rear pusher propellers. The aircraft has an important safety feature of having two electric motors for each propeller and therefore the aircraft has a grand total of 36 electric motors. The aircraft has one main wing which has four booms parallel to the fuselage. At the end of each boom are a set of two propellers. The tail is V-shaped and has a puller propeller on the top front of each vertical stabilizer.
The aircraft's interior has been specifically designed for accessibility. For example, the seats slide out or fold against a bulkhead, to provide more room for persons with reduced mobility. In addition, there is room for medical equipment that people need to bring on board when traveling. The interior includes hand holds, audio cues and ground lighting to help guide the passengers to their seats.
The aircraft has high-friction pads to keep luggage and medical equipment secure under seats and also in the rear luggage compartment. There are also overhead bins for luggage. The rear baggage compartment has gull-wing doors on both sides of the aircraft to make it easier to load or unload baggage.
The students used computational fluid dynamics to optimize the shape of the fuselage for minimum drag while in forward flight. The aircraft has been designed to reach its destination using the least energy as possible. The aircraft has retractable tricycle wheeled landing gear. Retractable landing gear makes the fuselage more efficient in forward flight. When the aircraft is on the ground, wheeled landing gear makes it easier to move the aircraft manually by ground crew.
The batteries are stored high near the wing to keep wires as short as possible and minimizing electrical loss. Having batteries mounted in a higher location on the aircraft also helps with the center of gravity close to the rotorplane, improving maneuvering. There are also triple redundant electric lines between the batteries and the motor controllers. The motor controllers are also mounted close to the propellers to minimize electrical losses.
- Aircraft type: eVTOL passenger concept design air taxi
- Piloting: 1 pilot
- Capacity: A maximum of 4 passengers without disabilities or a maximum of 2 passengers with reduced mobility
- Cruise speed: 173 mph (278 km/h)
- Maximum speed: 219 mph (352 km/h)
- Cruise altitude: Over 3,280 ft (Over 1,000 m)
- Maximum takeoff weight: 4,403 lb (1,997 kg)
- Propellers: 18 propellers (16 dedicated VTOL propellers, two rear pusher propellers)
- Electric motors: 36 electric motors
- Power source: Batteries
- Fuselage: Carbon fiber composite
- Windows: Large panoramic wrap around windows allow forward, left and right visibility for spectacular views with a solid roof above the passenger compartment
- Wings: 1 main high wing
- Tail: 1 V tail
- Landing gear: Retractable tricycle wheeled landing gear
- Safety features: Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP), provides safety through redundancy for its passengers and/or cargo. DEP means having multiple propellers (or ducted fans) and motors on the aircraft so if one or more propellers (ducted fans) or motors fail, the other working propellers (or ducted fans) and motors can safely land the aircraft. There are also redundancies in the sub-systems of the aircraft.
- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute website
- Article: The Vertical Flight Society Announces the Winners of the 39th Annual Student Design Competition, Vertical Flight Society, Aug. 22, 2022
- Article: VFS Announces the Winners of the 39th Annual Student Design Competition, eVTOL Insights, Aug. 24, 2022
- Article: How will eVTOL developers ensure access for people with disabilities?, Vertical Magazine, Sept. 28, 2022
- Article: How will eVTOL developers ensure access for people with disabilities?, AV Foil News, Sept. 29, 2022
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