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University Aeronautics Design Challenge 2017-2018

NEWS:  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:

  • Strategic Thrust 1: Safe, Efficient Growth in Global Operations
  • Strategic Thrust 2: Innovation in Commercial Supersonic Aircraft
  • Strategic Thrust 3: Ultra-Efficient Commercial Vehicles
  • Strategic Thrust 4: Transition to Alternative Propulsion and Energy
  • Strategic Thrust 5: Real-Time System-Wide Safety Assurance
  • Strategic Thrust 6: Assured Autonomy for Aviation Transformation

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.

Challenge 2: Digital Twin Design Challenge 2017 – 2018


In the near future, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is expected to increase dramatically. UAVs will be used in a variety of missions ranging from hurricane and forest fire monitoring to search and rescue to urban delivery services. These vehicles will have different requirements (long endurance for scientific missions, high payload and vertical take-off and landing for delivery UAVs, etc.) but all of them must be reliable to ensure that their respective missions can be accomplished while avoiding crashes in urban areas.

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 from 2 UAV mission profiles (see table 1) and design and build a UAV that can meet the mission requirements. Additionally, the UAV should be instrumented 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.


Mission Design Goal
Scientific Observation Maximize endurance (loiter time)
Urban delivery

Vertical take-off and landing

Maximize payload


Design Paper:

The paper is limited to 25 pages and should include the following:

  • An introduction describing background on the chosen mission profile
  • A discussion of the design considerations that affect the design goal
  • A discussion of all tools and methods used during the design and build of the vehicle
  • Detailed description of the design to include:
    • Dimensioned drawings
    • description of performance data (empty weight, payload weight, endurance, cruise speed, etc)
    • identification of critical structural members
  • A discussion of usage and state data being recorded (types of data, location of sensors, etc)
  • Results of flight testing

Click on the link above for the challenge 2 document as a pdf file.


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.

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

Students and/or team faculty advisors may NOT consult with NASA engineers, employees, past competitors, or anyone doing contract or grant work in this area, including industry or academe.

Students must show 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. 


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

  • 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