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Purdue group presents award-winning design project at NASA Glenn

After winning NASA's University Student Design Challenge in the spring, a group of Purdue engineering students toured NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and presented their project.

A team of Purdue students, largely comprised from the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, toured NASA Glenn’s Cleveland campus and presented an award-winning project to leadership in June.

The group won NASA’s University Student Design Challenge in May with a design concept paper that formulated a comprehensive plan for integrating flying vehicles into an existing city’s infrastructure.

Project lead Yuhan Roh, a senior in aeronautics and astronautics, joined fellow AAE students Richard Brookes, Jessica Hoke, Alex Kirtley, Colfax Putt and Ali Saroya as well as School of Civil Engineering student Alex Krivitsky on the project. Roh was the one charged with presenting a year’s worth of work in a 10-minute presentation to a group of NASA’s technical experts.

“They were very impressed with our work,” Roh says. “They complimented us for coming together as a team to achieve something that is critically challenging nowadays. They were very intrigued and impressed by the fact we were able to pull all the intel together to make it a whole package. They were especially impressed with our propulsion system and our air traffic management.

“We were able to answer all their technical questions. Even (NASA Glenn Deputy Director Marla Perez-Davis) mentioned that flying vehicles are inevitable technology. They think it’s a matter of time for someone to revolutionize the current ground transportation. They believe it can be us. I was just extremely honored to even be part of it.”

As team lead, Roh gave a 10-minute presentation to a group of NASA experts, among others.

Roh says the NASA Glenn research engineers recommended pursuing a patent and contacting the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) to publish the findings in a paper.

That all sounded good to Roh.

“I personally believe it is more than just about winning a design concept,” he says. “Flying vehicles will become our new transportation in the near future. We’ve been contacted by many industries for collaboration, and we are deciding where to go from now.

“I definitely was very, very inspired. It was just a life-changing event for me.”

Initially, Roh was assigned as a project lead by Guillermo Paniagua, a professor of mechanical engineering, and Roh responded by recruiting colleagues he’d gotten to know over his time at Purdue who’d impressed him and who he thought would fit the project.

Most of those people turned out to be fellow AAE students. The group pulled all-nighters, Roh says, all the while attending to their own disciplines and coursework. Roh says members of the team were involved in Sigma Gamma Tau and Purdue’s Hyperloop Team, among other organizations.

But they came together to assemble ideas for the design concept, which included examining structural dynamics, thermal management, and electrical systems for the vehicle, analyzing computational fluid dynamics for the propulsion system, designing the vehicle’s structure and materials, and even methods for vehicle-to-vehicle communication and enhanced navigation protocol. There also was a city-planning section in the report, and students projected what city infrastructure would be needed for the futuristic aerial vehicles. So they designed parking pads and garages, a central communication center, air traffic intersections and on-ramps so that flying vehicles and road vehicles could coexist.

In the end, the comprehensive report led to a winning project, a trip to NASA Glenn for the team and, on July 20, a trip to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for Roh, the project’s lead.

“This is what Purdue students are capable of,” Roh says. “This is what Purdue provides for students. Purdue isn’t just an institution that provides classes. Especially aerospace engineering. Purdue aerospace engineering actually allows us to go farther than what’s on the plan of study, and I think that’s what really great about this department.”

Posed group picture

PHOTO: The group at NASA Glenn in Cleveland: (Back, left to right) NASA’s Roger Dyson, Purdue student Colfax Putt, Purdue student Alex Kirtley, Purdue student Richard Brookes, NASA’s Paul Nelson; (front, left to right) Purdue student Yuhan Roh, Purdue student Jessica Hoke, Purdue student Ali Saroya and Purdue student Alex Krivitsky.