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New University Contest 2015-2016

Deign a Distributed Electric Propulsion Commuter Aircraft 


Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP) is an emerging aircraft design concept that has the potential to improve aircraft performance in a number of areas, including efficiency, takeoff and landing performance, noise abatement, safety, and ride quality. DEP also has the potential to enable new novel control systems. DEP can encompass any number of aircraft configurations and propulsion integration options. For this design challenge, a key component of DEP is an electrically powered propulsor unit, which can be a propeller, ducted or unducted fan, transverse fan, or any other motor-driven device that adds momentum to the flow. A propulsor may be used to provide thrust directly or may be used as an aerodynamic enhancement device (for example, increasing lift or reducing drag). One concept is the DEP wing in which the propulsors provide span-wise distribution of the propulsive stream and enhanced lift capability; however, other distribution arrangements may also be used. Another key component of DEP is a separate power source (e.g. batteries, fuel cells, turboelectric generators) providing electricity to the motors. An important advantage of distributed propulsion is that the propulsors are separate from the power source, allowing the designer to place the propulsor where it is most needed on the airframe. Another advantage is that propulsors can be operated independently, or even shut down during part of the mission.

Design & Mission Requirements

Design a commuter aircraft to apply DEP technology.   The challenge for the design team is to determine the most advantageous application of DEP for their aircraft and to justify their selection. The mission requirements listed below should be considered the minimum thresholds. The proposed design should significantly outperform a conventional turboprop aircraft in one or more key areas (e.g. cruise efficiency, takeoff & landing performance, operating cost, noise abatement, safety) through the application of DEP. Design teams will need a solid understanding of DEP technology and an awareness of current state-of-the-art DEP research. They must decide how to apply DEP in a way that will make their design attractive to a potential customer when compared to a turboprop aircraft that only meets the threshold requirements.  In addition, the team must justify their design choice by describing the intended market for the aircraft and why the market will choose their design over a conventional turboprop that only meets the 3000 ft. requirement. The team should also address how application of DEP is advantageous over a conventional high lift wing in their design. As with any new aircraft, teams should consider development cost and risk, FAA certification, and passenger acceptance. The aircraft should be ready for operational service by 2025.

Although DEP is compatible with a number of power sources, the requirement for this design is a turboelectric generator system. Batteries may be used to supplement power to the system if needed. The focus of this design challenge is meant to be the propulsor integration and usage, not the evaluation and selection of the power source. The aircraft design should incorporate a minimum of six propulsors. Not all propulsors are required to operate during the entire duration of the mission.

Mission Requirements:

  • Passenger capacity: 19 passengers with a 31-inch seat pitch. Assume a passenger with baggage weighs 225 lb.
  • All-weather capability, including the ability to fly in icing conditions.
  • Cruise Speed: 250 mph
  • Service Ceiling: 28,000 ft.
  • Range: 800 mi with max payload
  • Takeoff & Landing Field Length: No greater than 3000 ft. at maximum takeoff weight at sea level standard atmospheric conditions
  • Reserve requirement: FAR fuel requirements for flight in IFR conditions
  • Structural design criteria are +2.5/-1.0 g with a factor of safety of 1.5.

Important Dates–DUE DATE  MAY 16, 2016

Letters of Intent will be accepted through January 19, 2016.

Final Entries are due May 16, 2016.

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2014 HALE UAS for Hurricane Tracking Mission Challenge Winners

The Gobble Hawk, Virginia Tech, First Place Team

The QQ541-1 Trident, Purdue University, Second Place Team

The Big WAHOO, University of Virginia, Third Place Team

For images and more details on the 2014 winners:

 2013 UAS Firefighting Challenge Winners

Purdue University, First Place

Honorable Mention

  • Boston University
  • California Polytechnic Institute, Pomona Campus
  • University of Kansas
  • University of Wisconsin

NASA UAS Summer Internship Recipients

  • Kyle Smalling, California Polytechnic Institute, Pomona Campus
  • Brock Harden and Coryn Mickelson, University of Kansas
  • Jennifer Hull and Matthew Mannebach, University of Wisconsin