Related NASA Sites

NASA Research Centers

student_image_banner2click map

High School contest University contest Summer program Langley aeronautics forum Education resources


+ Dates, Eligibility, and Resources+ Submission Requirements+ Evaluation Criteria |
+ Contest Q&A
+ Awards+ Past Awardees

University Aeronautics Design Challenge 2017-2018

Two new challenges for 2017-2018 are available now.  Students may select either, but not both.

Click on the links below to download a copy:

Challenge 1:Ultra Efficient Commercial Transport Challenge

NASA invites students to propose unconventional subsonic transport aircraft designs that demonstrate dramatic reductions in energy consumption relative to today’s systems.


Meeting the projected demand for air transportation in the next few decades will require the introduction of safe, economical, energy-efficient, and community-friendly transport aircraft with the payload, speed, and range performance demanded by the market. The NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) has recently published a Strategic Implementation Plan that sets forth the ARMD vision for aeronautical research aimed at the next 25 years and beyond ( It encompasses a broad range of technologies to meet future needs of the aviation community, the nation, and the world for safe, efficient, flexible, and environmentally sustainable air transportation. The Strategic Implementation Plan organizes the focus of the ARMD’s research into six strategic thrusts:

The focus of this design competition is the convergence of technologies and concepts in Strategic Thrust 3 (Ultra-Efficient Commercial Vehicles) and Strategic Thrust 4 (Transition to Alternative Propulsion and Energy) to achieve dramatic energy efficiency improvements in long-haul commercial air transport vehicles. The table below, taken from the Strategic Implementation Plan, presents NASA’s targeted improvements in subsonic transport system metrics for the near-term (2015-2025), mid-term (2025-2035), and far-term (beyond 2035). NASA and its partners have identified candidate aircraft designs that approach the lower end of the far-term energy reduction target (60%). These concepts include both unconventional airframe designs (for example, hybrid wing body, truss-braced wing, double-bubble fuselage) and unconventional propulsion systems (for example, open rotor propulsors, hybrid electric propulsion, turboelectric propulsion). It is expected that achieving the upper far-term target of 80% reduction in energy consumption will require new, innovative airframe and propulsion system approaches, synergistic integration of the airframe and propulsion systems, and new operational paradigms.

To see the challenge mission requirements and the minimum features for a 25-page design paper, please download the 3 page challenge description at the link above.  All other pertinent information about eligibility, submission of papers, due dates, FAQ, etc. is posted on pages linked to the header of this page.  See especially, Submission Requirements.

Revised Challenge 2 Digital Twin


Idea/Concept: “An integrated multiphysics, multiscale, probabilistic simulation of an as-built system that uses the best available models, sensor information, and input data to mirror and predict activities/performance over the life of its corresponding physical twin.” Source: Definition provided by the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Systems Engineering [ODASD (SE)] – Digital Engineering Initiative

Digital Twin (DT) is a vehicle health management paradigm in which a computational model of an as- built aerospace vehicle is used to make continual predictions of the state of the vehicle throughout its service life. These predictions allow mission planners and operators to make decisions about each aircraft based on its predicted state (e.g. pull a vehicle offline for service or alter a mission profile to ensure safety of the vehicle) A critical input to each DT is the data describing how its physical twin is being used, i.e. environments, loads, etc.

Design Challenge:

In this challenge students are asked to choose a COTS or other available aircraft to provide detailed data about the state and usage of the vehicle while it is being flown including aerodynamic data (airspeed, angle of attack, etc.), battery condition (current, voltage, temperature), and structural loading on critical components.   Students should construct a digital twin model of the same vehicle and mirror the real data in flight simulations.

Design Paper Format and Submission is described in the Submissions Requirements Link above.  For Challenge 2, the paper should also include:


1. Questions about either challenge should be sent to contest admin email:   NASA responses will be posted with the questions, anonymously, on our Question and Answer page.

2. This challenge is not open to non-US institutions.  We can only accept entries from US institutions. 

3. CONFLICT OF INTEREST AVOIDANCE :  Students and/or team faculty advisors may NOT contact or consult with NASA engineers, employees, or any person doing contract or grant work in the challenge area, including industry or academe during the time of the contest (Sept 2017-June 2018).

4.  OTHER CONFLICTS OF INTEREST:  University Faculty advisors who are receiving NASA or Industry funds should disclose the source of funding in the verification letter required for the student’s submission of an entry.  Funds received from NASA or Industry to perform research at the university in the same area as the challenge may be grounds for disqualification.  Please write to the contest administrator with questions about funding if you receive funds in the challenge area or if there is any question about a conflict of interest.

5. Students must demonstrate that their work is original and that only students were part of the design process from beginning to end.  The faculty advisor is responsible to verify that the work is original, done entirely by the students, and is free of plagiarism.

6.  A summary of a thorough literature review is required and should become the foundation of the design paper.

7.  Students must demonstrate that their work is original and that only students were part of the design process. 

8. The faculty advisor is responsible to verify that the work is original, done entirely by the students, and is free of plagiarism.   Faculty should state this in their endorsement letter, required with the entry package.

For information about ARMD programs, projects, and goals, please visit the following links.


WINNERS OF THE 2016-2017 Design Challenge are posted here, along with Honorable Mention teams in both categories.  This URL is the direct link to the Winners Page:

LAST YEAR’S CONTEST News:  A one-day symposium and tours for winners of the 2016-2017 contest is planned for late September. Pictures of the event and video excerpts will be available in mid to late October.

Two technical challenge areas were available for the 2016-2017 academic year.

Technical Area 1:   Supersonic Challenge 2016

Technical Area 2:  Low Noise Subsonic Challenge 2016

2015-2016 Challenge Winners News:

Three teams from the DEP challenge were  recognized as the top three papers from 17 different team entries.  The announcement has been posted on the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate pages:

The web story is here:

The winning designs are posted here:

Below is a copy of the 2015-2016 Challenge

Design a Distributed Electric Propulsion Commuter Aircraft 
Download a pdf copy here:   DEP Design Challenge 2015  and ERA goals chart

Send questions to


2015 Electric Four Seat Aircraft Challenge Winners

First Place, Graduate Level

Tom Neuman, Georgia Tech

First Place, Undergraduate Level

University of California, Davis Team led by Ethan Kellogg

Second Place, Undergraduate Level

University of California, Davis Team led by Louis Edelman

Third Place, Undergraduate Level

Virginia Tech Team led by Drew Sullivan

Honorable Mention

University of California, Davis Team led by Andres Zuniga

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

NASA UAS Summer Internship Recipients