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Aerospace Engineering Grads Win, Undergrads Take Second at International Rotorcraft Competition

By Maryland Today Staff

In the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci envisioned a craft that flew using a single helix-shaped propeller—the aerial screw—viewed by many as the first vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) machine ever designed.

In 2020, University of Maryland aerospace engineering graduate students won first place and undergraduates took second place in the Vertical Flight Society’s (VFS) 37th Annual Student Design Competition, which challenged students from across the world to reimagine da Vinci’s design.

It was the 19th victory for UMD graduate students in the competition since 1998.

UMD’s winning entry in the graduate category, Elico, derived its name from the Italian root for the words “helicopter,” “propeller,” “helix” and “screw.” It is designed as designed as a fully autonomous, manned quadrotor vehicle, and improves on Leonardo by using a tapered aerial screw rotor to provide all lift, thrust and control of the vehicle. The graduate team also took the bonus prize for “Best Weight Optimization” in its design.

UMD’s undergraduate team Samsara leveraged the aerial screw design to create a modern autonomous, ultralight and electric quadcopter with four corkscrew rotors made from carbon fiber.

A total of 13 teams from six countries competed. Each winning team receives a cash stipend, and first-place teams are invited to the VFS’s Annual Forum and Technology Display to present their designs.

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Strategic Communications for the University of Maryland community weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.