Student team one of eight finalists in NASA aviation competition

Posted: June 1, 2022

When Maya Sivakumaran first heard about the 2022 Gateways to Blue Skies: Airports of Tomorrow Competition last October, the initial notice of intent to participate was due in two days.

Nevertheless, the aerospace engineering major was determined to compete.

Team in front of United Airlines Express jet
(L to R) Team members Madi Herrmann, Maya Sivakumaran, John Manuel, Lane Highmiller, Niraj Patel and Mohammed Oumer.

“I was drawn to the competition since it combined two major interests of mine: sustainability and aerospace,” Sivakumaran said. “Honestly, the criteria and structure of the competition reminded me of some of my favorite memories from high school engineering competitions and I really wanted to experience that excitement again.”

She reached out to her friends that she had met within the aerospace engineering program at The Ohio State University and asked anyone if they would be willing to form a team.

With an overwhelmingly positive response and after a bit of convincing, she had her team. They put in their notice to compete and got to work.

In early April, that team of Ohio State aerospace engineering rising third year students learned they had been selected as one of eight finalists from across the country for NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate’s (ARMD) 2022 Gateways to Blue Skies: Airports of Tomorrow Competition.

In addition to Sivakumaran, Madi Herrmann, Lane Highmiller, John Manuel, Mohammed Oumer and Niraj Patel will present their airport design concept titled “Project ECOAir” to a panel of industry experts at the 2022 Blue Skies Forum at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, June 2-3.

“All in all, I never expected to advance this far and be recognized by NASA for our work. This just makes me even more proud of everything my friends and I have accomplished, entirely of our own initiative and in our free time,” Sivakumaran said. “I have learned an immense amount about not only the aviation industry, but also about what it’s like to seek out information and industry connections to accomplish a specific goal. This competition has made me realize the scale of my capabilities outside of my university classes and has really inspired me to take advantage of the large pool of knowledge I have exposure to as an Ohio State student, right now.”

As the aviation industry moves to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, planes and airports of today will be vastly different in the future. The Blue Skies competition is a new event that seeks to inspire the incoming generation of engineers, planners, architects and other related disciplines to conceptualize changes to new airport designs or airport overhauls to ensure technology changes in the air go hand-in-hand with infrastructure changes on the ground.

“Between universities adopting this competition as part of in-class curriculum and students creating teams on their own, Blue Skies is proving to do what we set out to achieve: Engage a wide variety of university students across age groups, disciplines, and academic levels in conducting research into climate friendly aviation technologies of the future,” said Steven Holz, NASA Aeronautics University Innovation assistant project manager and Blue Skies sponsor. “The submissions to the inaugural competition are diverse and creative. We are excited to host the finalist teams at the June Forum.”

To reach the objective of designing an airport suitable for aviation in 2050, the Ohio State Project ECOAir team began researching the current technology in use or under development. From there, they brainstormed all the ways this technology could be put in use and built upon to conceptualize what an airport of 2050 would look like.

“Several factors went into this concept, such as the planes that will be available then, new technology, increase in air transportation population-wise, carbon emissions, the location of the airport,” Herrmann said. “A lot of it involved us defining our idea of the 2050 aviation landscape and building our design off of that.”

After getting a general grasp of what future capabilities realistically are, the team reached out to industry professionals and aerospace engineering faculty.

“Their guidance was immensely beneficial for understanding airport processes and the current scope of the aviation industry, as well as for gaining a variety of opinions on what the future might look like,” Sivakumaran said.

The team's video that explains their research and airport design

After gathering all of this information and insight, the team began designing their airport, which includes hydrogen and bio-fueling systems, electric charging stations and increased gate-runway mobility. They also implemented sustainable airport technologies, such as electric taxiing vehicles, carbon-friendly building materials, and the implementation of solar panels and wind turbines, to create the most efficient airport they could conceive.

To submit their project and ideas, the team created a technical paper, infographic and video that explains their research and airport design.

The group was advised by members of the Battelle Center for Science, Engineering and Public Policy Executive Director Elizabeth Newton and Student Programming Lead Ethan Rivera. They also received guidance and direction from Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professors John Horack, Ali Jhemi and Brian Ritchie.

Finalist teams received $6,000 stipends to facilitate full participation in the competition, including presenting their design concepts at the 2022 Blue Skies Forum, which will be livestreamed. Winning team members earn a chance to intern at one of NASA’s Aeronautics centers in the 2022-23 academic year.

The Project ECOAir team still cannot believe how far they have come but are excited about the opportunities in front of them.

“It still is crazy to believe that we made it this far in competition," Herrmann exclaimed. "When we submitted our concept in March, we all agreed that no matter the results, our work had been extremely beneficial in terms of knowledge we gained along the way and the experience that had real-world applications within our major.”

edited version of original article on Dept. of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering website

Categories: StudentsResearch
Tag: aviation