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UMD Students Sweep 2021 Vertical Flight Society Design Competition

University of Maryland students took top spots for both the graduate and undergraduate categories in the 2021 student design competition sponsored by the Vertical Flight Society (VFS). It marks the fourth sweep for UMD teams at this competition and the university's 20th win in the graduate category.

The competition’s theme required students to develop an unmanned vertical lift concept that could make high-speed deliveries of up to 50 kg (110 pounds) medical equipment payloads to customers in a 50-km (31-mile) radius, and to logistics centers up to 200 km (124 miles) away.

According to the VFS, the COVID-19 pandemic amplified the need for fast, autonomous delivery to precise locations. Vertical lift technology can help meet that need through safe distribution of medical supplies and other commodities through runway-independent “contactless” delivery.

The graduate team, Alicorn, included graduate students Dilhara Jayasundara (team leader), Erik Scott, Andrew Collar, Spencer Fishman and Animesh Shastry. Their autonomous unmanned air vehicle used a tandem rotor configuration for compact design, low-risk loading and high-payload capacity. In addition to building for speed and safety, the team also designed the craft to have a low acoustic signature, a feature that may become critical in the future when more vehicles may be in the skies. Beyond emergency deliveries, their vehicle has potential applications in areas like agriculture, surveying and inspection, communications and more.

The undergraduate team, Garra, included undergraduate students Derek Safieh, Andrew Lent, Noam Kaplan, Joseph Cohen, Timothy Young, Emmanuel Azadze, Ariq Zufar, Jordan Schmidt and Rashaun Williams. In addition to their first-place win, the undergraduate team also took honors for Best Weight Optimization Model.

Their design featured an innovative thrust-compounded single-main rotor and a novel open-bottom structural design. In addition, their craft includes configurations that allow for different payload carrying and loading/unloading options, as well as the ability to deploy payloads either via a hoist while hovering or while on the ground.

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