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University of Illinois Illini Air Shuttle

University of Illinois Illini Air Shuttle eVTOL passenger aircraft

 

Illini Air Shuttle
University of Illinois
Urbana and Champaign, Illinois, USA
Illini Air Shuttle web page

Founded in 1867, the University of Illinois is a public land-grant research university in the twin cities of Urbana and Champaign, Illinois, USA. The university was classified in 2020 as among "R1: Doctoral Universities" or very high research activity. In fiscal year 2019, research expenditures at the University of Illinois totaled $652 million USD. The campus library system possesses the second-largest university library in the United States by holdings after Harvard University (USA). The University of Illinois contains 16 schools and colleges and offers more than 150 undergraduate and over 100 graduate programs of study.

The Illini Air Shuttle is being designed by a student-run group (called a Registered Student Organization or RSO) at the University of Illinois focused on the design and development of a vectored thrust electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. The group was formed in August 2020 and is led by Nina Ayar (President, Industrial Engineering), Roshan Patel (Vice President, Aerospace Engineering), Mujahid Ahmed (Aerospace Engineering), Kamil Nocon (Mechanical Engineering), and Ajitesh Muppuru (Aerospace Engineering). An executive board at the university is looking forward to watching the club grow and seeing how the Air Shuttle design will continue to mature within the urban air mobility industry.

To design the aircraft and all its systems, the team decided to split into two subteams, one group focusing on the construction and testing of a subscale model and the other group focusing on the full-scale aircraft design. At the beginning of th semester, another group formed to work on submitting a proposal for the AIAA/IEEE Student Design Competition. The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic played a major part in the organization of the club and the decision to split into subteams, as only a small group of people could meet in the lab to construct the model in compliance with COVID-19 protocols. The current dynamic of having three teams working on different aspects of the same design has worked extremely well as team members, specifically the underclassmen, have much more input in design decisions which are then reviewed by the entire club on a weekly basis.

The subscale team within the organization has been working toward the design and construction of a proof-of-concept model of the current eVTOL design. The full-scale team has divided up tasks into two subgroups: electrical and aerodynamics. Each of these teams have slit into other groups working on more specific parts of the aircraft such as subsystems, mechanical systems, the superstructure, its aerodynamics and things of this nature.

Illini Air Shuttle's power architecture graphic

Illini Air Shuttle's power architecture graphic

The Illini Air Shuttle is a 10 passenger eVTOL aircraft used for advanced aerial mobility (AAM). It is unknown if the capacity of the aircraft includes the pilot(s) or not. The purpose for designing an eVTOL air shuttle is to address the current problem of not having reliable bus and train travel (or not having enough scheduled bus and train service) between large metropolitan cities to the surrounding smaller cities.

The aircraft's cruise speed is 180 mph (321 km), has a flight time of one hour and the estimated range is 200 miles (321 km). The maximum payload of the aircraft is 2,756 lb (1,250 kg). The aircraft has tandem rotating wings, the front wings are a low wing and the rear wings are a high wing. The wings rotate to a vertical position for VTOL flight and the wings move to a horizontal position for forward flight. There are two propellers on each front wing and three propellers on each of the rear wings. There is a total of 10 propellers and 10 electric motors on the aircraft's propulsion system. The aircraft's wings can rotate independently of each other providing much greater control of the aircraft in both calm and gusty wind conditions. There would also be other electric motors on the aircraft for the tilt-wings and for the retractable landing gear.

The aircraft's fuselage has a standard sized main cabin. The cockpit has a very large window and the windows for the passengers are larger than the windows found on conventional airplanes of the same size. There is what appears to be a large loading ramp in the back of the aircraft. The landing gear is retractable tricycle wheeled landing gear.

In the aircraft's current design, the Illini Air Shuttle could be used by airlines to provide regular passenger air service in large urban cities. While the student team has not said if they have plans to design an air cargo configuration but all it would take is to basically take out the passenger seating and the aircraft becomes a heavy-lift air cargo and logistics aircraft.

It is unknown if subscale models have been made or flown yet by the students. It is also unknown if the students plan on starting a company with the aircraft they are designing.

Illini Air Shuttle in VTOL mode

Illini Air Shuttle in VTOL mode

Illini Air Shuttle rear view

Illini Air Shuttle rear view

Illini Air Shuttle bottom view

Illini Air Shuttle bottom view

Specifications:

  • Aircraft type: Medium size eVTOL passenger aircraft
  • Piloting: Unknown
  • Capacity: 10 passengers
  • Cruise speed: 180 mph (290 km/h)
  • Range: 200 miles (321 km)
  • Flight time: 1 hour
  • Cruise altitude: Unknown
  • Empty weight: 8,009 lb (3,632 kg)
  • Maximum payload: 2,756 lb (1,250 kg)
  • Maximum takeoff weight: 10,765 lb (4,882 kg)
  • Propellers: 10 propellers
  • Electric motors: 10 electric motors
  • Power source: Batteries
  • Fuselage: Carbon fiber composite
  • Windows: Large windows allowing left, right visibility, for spectacular views with a solid roof above the passenger compartment
  • Wings: Tandem wings
  • Tail: No tail but appears to have a rear cargo loading ramp
  • 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. In case of emergency, the aircraft can glide and land on a runway or road.

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