Starling (concept design)
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland, USA www.umd.edu
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 the University of Maryland (USA) includes Matthew Arace (Team Lead), Peter Ryseck, Paulo Arias, John Soong, Akinola Akinwale, Eric Greenbaum and three faculty advisors. In the graduate category of the competition, the student team won 2nd Place for their Starling eVTOL passenger air taxi aircraft for passengers with reduced mobility. The team's Executive Summary is here online.
The name Starling was chosen for the aircraft's name due when starlings (small birds) were introduced to New York City in the late 19thy Century and the birds were very comfortable and adaptable at making their home in the urban sprawl. The birds are capable of mimicking sounds of birds, other animals, and even mimicking car alarms and other sounds made by human made machines.
The Starling eVTOL is a five passenger quad tilt-rotor air taxi concept design made for advanced air mobility (AAM). The aircraft will hold one pilot with advanced computer assisted navigation and guidance control. The aircraft carries four passengers. The aircraft has tandem wings and has been designed as a longer-range electric aircraft with the ability of navigating through dense and obstacle-prone cities and urban areas.
The aircraft has four tilt-rotors and uses 12 electric motors for the propulsion systems. Each tilt-rotor has three stacked electric motors and one motor fails per rotor occurs, there is no reduction in the performance of the aircraft. Each rotor has a swashplate with flap and lag ability, making the propulsion blades rotors and not propellers. The tandem wings are stationary and do not rotate.
There is also redundant systems in the fly-by-wire architecture and parallel wiring of the aircraft, increasing the safety of the passengers while in the aircraft. The aircraft will have electronics which do not allow the aircraft to be susceptible to any jamming or cyber threats.
The Starling was intentionally designed as a passenger first vehicle, using the principle of universal design. This means that accessible and equitable features inside the aircraft allowing all passengers, particularly those passengers with reduced mobility can enter, sit down and exit the aircraft with ease. This also includes passengers with disabilities that are visible or not.
The aircraft's seating configuration has single column of seats, each seat having a personal luggage compartment next to the seat. Each seat is a window and an aisle seat. The cabin is reconfigurable depending upon the needs of the passengers. Each seat has a personal luggage compartment next to the seat. The aircraft has a forward checked luggage compartment and also has a larger aft luggage compartment. The rear luggage compartment can hold two wheelchairs and other required equipment that passengers need to bring on board.
The design team expects the cost per passenger mile will be $2.91 USD per mile and the cost of the aircraft will be in the range of $2.45 million USD.
Aircraft type: eVTOL passenger concept design air taxi
Piloting: 1 pilot
Capacity: 4 passengers without mobility issues, 2 passengers with reduced mobility
Cruise speed: 174 mph (278 km/h)
Range: 109 m (175 km)
Flight time: 50 minutes
Cruise altitude: 4,000 ft (1,219.2 m)
Empty weight: 4,253 lb (1,929 kg)
Maximum payload: 1,300 lb (590 kg)
Maximum takeoff weight: 5,553 lb (2,519 kg)
Propellers: 4 tilt-rotors
Electric motors: 12 electric motors
Power source: Batteries
Fuselage: Carbon fiber composite
Windows: Large windows allowing forward, left, right visibility, for spectacular views with a solid roof above the passenger compartment
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 total rotor failure, the aircraft can land like an airplane.
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