Thursday, January 28, 2010

Envisioning Future Flight

Today's students will be designing tomorrow's aircraft, and NASA's Fundamental Aeronautics Student Competition gives them a head start.

Each year, the competition challenges students to research a particular real-world issue in aeronautics and to develop their own solutions to the problem.

Past participants in NASA's Fundamental Aeronautics Student Competition said the experience was a rewarding one that helped them learn more about aeronautics and encouraged them to improve their approaches to research and creative problem-solving.

In the 2008-2009 competition, students were challenged to develop ideas for making commercial supersonic air transportation available by 2020. Contest participants did so by examining obstacles to supersonic transportation and proposing solutions. In an additional challenge, some students submitted designs for a small supersonic airliner.

The top U.S. individual winner won a $1,000 cash prize, and members of the top U.S. team split $1,500. International students were not eligible for cash prizes but received an engraved trophy. All participants received a NASA certificate and free student versions of two engineering software programs.

Edric San Miguel's design concept, "The Silent Airliner," was the first-place winner in the U.S. individual category. Image Credit: NASA

Edric San Miguel was the first-place winner in the U.S. individual category for his design concept, "The Silent Airliner." When he entered, San Miguel was a junior at the Norfolk Technical Center in Norfolk, Va.

San Miguel is a student in Norfolk Public Schools' NORSTAR Gifted Program, which promotes scientific research, robotics, inventions and innovations. He first entered the program after being told about it by his teacher, Joy Young, during his sophomore year.

"That year, I entered the competition as an individual and placed second in the U.S. individual awards category," he said. "I tied with a senior from Arizona. Last year, I decided that I would take on the next challenge of the contest as a high school junior. That is when I placed first place in the entire high school division."

The aeronautics contest is just one way San Miguel has been involved with NASA. During the summer, he participated in the NASA Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars project. "Through this program, I worked as an intern at NASA Langley's Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate and Aeronautics Systems Analysis Branch," he said. He continued working as an intern through the fall session as a part-time intern. He plans to participate in the aeronautics contest again.

"The biggest thing I got out of this contest is the internship," he said. "Through this internship, I was able to work with NASA engineers and experience what aeronautical engineers do. I was able to make new friends with my fellow interns, establish contacts with engineers, and enter the pipeline into working for NASA."

Edric San Miguel is a student in Norfolk Public Schools' NORSTAR Gifted Program. Image Credit: NASA

San Miguel hopes to attend Virginia Tech and major in aerospace engineering and minor in business management.

Second place in the individual category went to Andrew Andraka, who was a sophomore at Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, R.I., at the time he designed his entry, "Next-Generation Supersonic Airliner."

"I learned about this contest two years ago when my dad pointed it out, noting it was a topic where I could write all I wanted about airplanes," he said. "The first essay I wrote was 'The Next Generation DC-3,' where I designed a hybrid aircraft encompassing a canard wing setup, coupled with a Custer Channel wing. I received an honorable mention for my essay, so I decided I would try again with the 'Next Generation Supersonic Airliner.'"

Participating in the contest, Andraka said, was both a good learning experience and an enjoyable opportunity. "I learned a lot more about airline design and the thought process entailed to devise original concepts," he said. "It also gave me a good excuse to expand my library of aviation resources."

Andrew Andraka hopes to establish his own aircraft research and production company someday. Image Credit: NASA

Andraka said that after majoring in aerospace engineering, he hopes to start an aircraft research and manufacturing company, specializing in light-sport aircraft and general aviation aircraft. He is working on flight training and hopes to be a private pilot with multiple endorsements before graduating college.

Jason Jong and Ziang Xie, of Arcadia High School in Arcadia, Calif., won first place in the U.S. team category of the contest. Jong, a junior at the time of the entry, and Xie, then a senior, named their design concept "The Lazarus T1."

"I had never participated in the NASA aeronautics competition nor any other NASA related or funded opportunities before entering the aeronautics competition," Jong said. "I don't quite remember, but I believe I was simply clicking around on NASA's Web site and came across the 'student contests' section for high schoolers. From the list, I saw the aeronautics contest, described as an aircraft design contest. At the time, I was an incoming sophomore. From about seventh-grade, I have had a lot of enthusiasm with airplanes, reading books, and searching the Web, so naturally, the contest was something I really really gravitated towards. I made a goal to enter, but unfortunately I waited until my junior year before I organized the completion of the project.

"The most rewarding aspect of entering this contest was the openness in creativity the contest allowed to designers," Jong said. "Though I have seen many plane designs through photos online, it was not until I entered this competition that I began piecing together feasible airplane designs of my own and developing my own imagination, like a precursor to actual aerospace engineering. It really brought a sense of creativity that I find rewarding, considering what we were able to accomplish."

Jong is currently applying to colleges. "My intended major is physics, which I have always liked," he said. "However, engineering seems a likely major for me as well, as my dad is a civil engineer. I'm keeping my options open for now. And, if I don't get into college, the Air Force sounds like a mighty fun place to go too!"

Jason Jong and Ziang Xie split the responsibilities in creating their entry for the contest. Image Credit: NASA

Xie heard about the contest through Jong. "I had never participated in this or any other NASA-affiliated contest before, with the exception of a regional Science Bowl competition at JPL (NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory), and at first I was hesitant about entering with my minimal knowledge," he said. "I gradually became more interested in the contest, however, as my teammate described how our submission would address issues with supersonic flight. We decided Jason would handle most of the basic design components, and I would work on creating a CAD model of our plane as well as help research technological advances, which might make supersonic flight more plausible in the future.

"The Fundamental Aeronautics competition piqued my interest in aeronautics and also helped me learn how to collaborate with a teammate in writing a design proposal," Xie said. "Most importantly, I learned how to quickly research and become more knowledgeable about a specific field."

Xie is currently attending UC Berkeley, majoring in electrical engineering and computer science.

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