Feature

Answering the Tough Questions
11.29.06
An artist's depiction of a fictional, futuristic aircraft
As flight technology becomes more advanced, so do the challenges faced by the scientists and engineers who deliver the advancements.

Image to left: The aeronautics contest challenges students to tackle real-world problems. Credit: NASA

Aerospace professionals working on the next generation of air and space vehicles must answer questions the Wright brothers never imagined. For example, what design works best to allow the same aircraft to fly efficiently at both supersonic and subsonic speeds; how can medical evacuation helicopters be made safer; or, what shapes and materials are needed for air-breathing engines that also fly in space?

Students can offer their ideas to help answer these and other questions in the new fundamental aeronautics student competition. The competition is open to U.S. citizens enrolled in an accredited college or university in the U.S. or its territories. Students who receive NASA funds for research projects or who work for faculty on a NASA-funded project must disclose this information in their entry packet. Each entry must be sponsored by a supervising or advising faculty member, who will review and approve the entry prior to submission. Students are encouraged, when possible, to work in multidisciplinary, multidepartment teams.

International students and teams may also enter, but they will not be eligible for certain prizes. Trophies and certificates will be awarded to each winner, regardless of citizenship.

Related Resources
+ 2006-2007 Academic Year University Competition

+ NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate

+ NASA Education Web site
Students interested in participating in the competition should submit a notice of intent by Jan. 19, 2007. The final deadline for submitting completed entries is April 23, 2007. Entries will be judged based on how well the submission is focused and how well it addresses the problem. In addition, the following areas will also be considered in scoring: innovation and creativity; discussion of feasibility; baseline comparison with the relevant current technology, system, or design; and inclusion of reviews of relevant current literature.

Competition officials are planning to award cash prizes and paid summer internships to eligible winners. More details on prizes can be found on the Web site.

The challenges offered by the competition fall into five categories: hypersonic or supersonic flight, subsonic fixed-wing or rotary-wing transport, and efficient designs for landing heavier payloads on Mars.

Jack Glassman, a physics professor at Southern Illinois University, Evansville, sponsored a team in the 2006 aeronautics competition. He said, "I've seldom seen a group of students work with such gusto. It is my hope that other students will learn from them by example."

An artist's fictional conception of humans working on Mars
Image to left: Challenges in the contest involve everything from subsonic fixed-wing flight to missions to Mars. Credit: NASA

Students from past competitions said it was an incredible experience. "The NASA design competition was extremely exciting to participate in," said one 2006 team member. "It gave us a chance to compete against other universities rather than just doing a course project. The internship at NASA was a great prize. It gave me the opportunity to work in a real engineering environment and gain valuable experience."

Another winning student from the 2006 competition said, "With most of my school projects, the topic was limited to the professor's field, and the student's main interaction was with the professor. With the NASA Aero Competition, it was a much broader set of interactions. As a result of the competition, I was able to interact with several professors to get a better understanding of the full scope of the project."

Through this competition and others, NASA continues its tradition of investing in the nation’s education. These efforts are directly tied to the agency's major education goal of attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The quality education of America's youth is critical to NASA and to the future of the nation.


David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services