Due to climate change and global warming, the risk of natural disasters is increasing around the globe. Possible consequence in an emergency: the terrestrial communication infrastructure is damaged or fails completely. The DLR Design Challenge 2023 has taken up this topic and set itself the task of designing an aircraft to restore internet coverage over a large area over a longer period of time, acting as part of a fleet in an operational system (“system-of-systems”). In addition, the aircraft should be able to carry out earth observation of the affected area. Distributed among five university teams, a total of 25 students participated. After a kick-off event in mid-March at the DLR Institute of Aerodynamics and Flow Technology in Braunschweig, they recently presented their designs at the final symposium of the competition at the DLR Institute of System Architectures in Aeronautics in Hamburg. The three best-placed teams can present their concepts at the German Aerospace Congress (DLRK 2023) from 19 to 21 September in Stuttgart.
The jury awarded first place to the concept “The Sentinel System” from the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University in Ravensburg. According to the organisers, the DHBW team convinced the jury with a very robust design of an aircraft that can be used all year round and even in the most adverse conditions. The system relies “on proven technology and a high-stretch wing to enable a flight duration of up to 50 hours”. It is powered by a 78 KW piston engine, which provides the necessary power for a pusher propeller at the tail. Special attention had been paid to the navigation of the autonomously operated aircraft. Design decisions, the jury said, were “stringently justified during the design process” to enable entry into service by 2040. Part of the system is also a well thought-out operational concept to ensure that a fleet of such aircraft can take off as quickly as possible from a specially developed operational base.
Second place went to the team from the University of Stuttgart with the concept “PERSEUS” (abbreviation for Post-Emergency Response and Surveillances UAV System). The aircraft has a hybrid system of hydrogen fuel cells, batteries and super capacitors and is powered by 22 “Electric Ducted Fans” (EDF) mounted on the control surfaces. The aircraft can take off and land vertically from a folding truck container, regardless of available runways. Third place went to the team from RWTH Aachen University with the “High-Flying, Efficient and Intelligent Crisis Communication Unit”, or “HEIKE” for short, a next-generation solar-powered aircraft. The high-wing design of the aerodynamically highly efficient duck-wing aircraft with a wingspan of 40 metres prevents shading of the solar cells on the main wing, which charge the battery during the day. Fourth place went to TU Dresden with its “Air Located Internet Vehicle for Emergencies”, or “AirLive” for short; fifth to Trier University with the “Prometheus” syetem.
“The DLR Design Challenge shows how innovations can be created with different approaches, diversity and variety,” said DLR Executive Board Chair Prof. Dr.-Ing. Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla at the finals of the student competition. “The results surprise with a mix of different aerodynamic concepts and propulsion systems for aerial vehicles that can take over tasks as high-flying platforms in the future in the shortest possible time.” All the teams had taken on a great challenge alongside their actual studies and had thought about the mobility of the future “in order to find approaches to solutions for current social challenges of our time.”
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