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Students have won the DLR Design Challenge 2022 with the hybrid aircraft concept "Inferno".
Simulation of the hybrid-electric fire-fighting aircraft “Inferno”, capable of vertical take-offs. From the year 2030, it could be used for airborne firefighting. © University of Stuttgart / IFB, Team Inferno

Drought and heat as consequences of climate change are also increasing in temperate latitudes. As a result, forests are burning more and more frequently, also in Germany. In many cases, the fires are fought from the air with fire-fighting aircraft or helicopters, both of which have advantages and disadvantages. Since the propellers of fire-fighting aircraft are designed for forward flight, the machines need a lot of space to take off and land or to take on water, which limits their possible uses. In helicopters, on the other hand, the rotor blades are horizontal. This makes it possible to pick up water vertically from a small lake or even swimming pools. In addition, a helicopter can hover in the air and thus drop the fire-fighting water precisely above the source of the fire. A team from the aerospace engineering programme at the University of Stuttgart has now presented a concept for a hybrid fire-fighting aircraft (link in German) that combines the advantages of both systems. With its design, christened “Inferno”, the team won this year’s DLR Design Challenge of the German Aerospace Centre, which is aimed at students of technical universities in Germany.

To combine the speed and efficiency of an aeroplane with the flexibility of a helicopter, Stuttgart students Benjamin Knoblauch, Günay Can, Hannes Kahlo, Johannes Ritter, Nicolas Mandry and Prishit Modi designed an aircraft that combines two propellers for forward flight with eight for vertical flight. This is said to be made possible by lightweight components made of fibre composites and, according to the jury’s verdict, “a clever combination of technologies.” For example, “Inferno” is to have a hybrid-electric powertrain consisting of electric motors, a battery and a gas turbine. If necessary, the aircraft will also be able to be refuelled in the air. The advantage: fuel consumption is significantly reduced and more time is available for firefighting. Since aerial firefighting is a challenging and often dangerous task, much attention has been paid to cockpit ergonomics and support systems. The operational concept also provides for four to six identical aircraft with different payload modules: Some fight fires with the firefighting water module, others are designed for passengers and cargo and provide human resupply or evacuation and base station set-up. “This makes it possible to utilise the aircraft all year round, even outside the forest fire season,” say the students.

The team was supervised by Prof. Andreas Strohmayer and Johannes Schneider from the Institute of Aircraft Design (IFB) at the University of Stuttgart. Strohmayer is pleased with the first place in the DLR Design Challenge 2022: “With ‘Inferno’, our students have designed a realistic firefighting aircraft that achieved excellent results in all criteria of the competition.”

The winners get to present their design at the ICAS conference (Congress of the International Council of the Aeronautical Science) and at the German Aerospace Congress (DLRK) in Dresden.

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