Prepare for takeoff

Texas A&M team wins second round of Boeing-backed flight device competition

A team out of Texas A&M University is a finalist for Boeing's GoFly competition. Courtesy of GoFly

A team from Texas A&M University has advanced in a global Boeing-sponsored competition called GoFly. The competition asks teams to create a personal flying device aircraft that is smaller, lighter, and quieter than any currently existing model.

Texas A&M Harmony is one of the five teams named a winner in GoFly's Phase II competition, which has more than 3,500 innovators from 101 countries across the world. The teams are now preparing for the Final Fly-Off expected to take place in 2020, at which point innovators will put their aircrafts to the test, competing at a final event showcase and for the remaining $1.6 million in prizes.

Dr. Moble Benedict leads the team and is an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at TAMU and founder of the Advanced Vertical Flight Laboratory with 15 years of experience in vertical take-off and landing aircraft concepts. Texas A&M Harmony is the only team from Texas currently in the competition.

"The first time I heard about the GoFly competition, I thought 'this is impossible I can't do it,'" says Moble Benedict, Harmony's team captain and an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at TAMU.

Benedict, who also founded the Advanced Vertical Flight Laboratory with 15 years of experience in vertical take-off and landing aircraft concepts, proposed the competition to his students and his connections in the field to build his current team.

"The first few months we spent brainstorming different ideas," Benedict tells InnovationMap.

The team created a design called Aria, which was inspired by the word's musical roots.

"Being engineers, we were trying to stick with a theme," says Carl Runco, a PhD student at the Advanced Vertical Flight Lab of TAMU. "We struck on 'Aria,' and thought 'that's it' because Aria is the solo of an opera and we're designing a single-person vehicle."

Aria is a high technology readiness level compact rotorcraft designed to minimize noise and maximize efficiency, safety, reliability, and flight experience, according to the GoFly website.

"The key outcome of this design is the rotor system we have designed," says Benedict. "We have come up with a very unique rotor system which is very quiet without compromising the efficiency. That's something very hard to do."

In addition to Benedict and Runco, the Harmony team has a total of 12 members — from PhDs to professors, including:

  • David Coleman, a PhD student conducting research at AVFL (Advanced Vertical Flight Laboratory)
  • Hunter Denton, a Masters student in AVFL at TAMU
  • Dr. Eric Greenwood, who received a PhD in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland and is a researcher at NASA Langley developing rotor noise modeling methods and experimental techniques
  • Atanu Halder, a PhD candidate in Aerospace Engineering at TAMU
  • Dr. Vikram Hrishikeshavan, an Assistant Research Scientist at the University of Maryland with 14 years of experience in VTOL aircraft concepts
  • Dr. Vinod Lakshminarayan, a Research Scientist at Science and Technology Corporation, NASA Ames Research Center
  • Bochan Lee, a South Korean Navy UH-60 pilot and a current graduate researcher at AVFL
  • Farid Saemi, a PhD student at TAMU
  • Vishaal Subramanian, a Masters student at the Aerospace department of TAMU
  • Aswathi Sudhir, a PhD student in Materials and Structures from Aerospace department of TAMU.

Winning the competition would put the Texas university on the map for aerospace engineering.

"The recognition would be invaluable," says Saemi.

The GoFly competition is broken up into three phases that began in 2017 according to the website. The first phase focused on written reports detailing each team's design and plan. After advancing through that round, Harmony entered Phase II, which included a re-review of Phase I materials and a demonstration of the progress each team has made. The five winners of Phase II will compete in a fly-off in 2020.

Other teams based in the United States include Trek Aerospace FK2 Inc. and DragonAir Aviation. International teams include Silverwing Personal Flight, from the Netherlands, and Aeroxo LV, from Latvia and Russia.

"We're inspired and excited to see the strong progress that GoFly competitors have made on their bold, creative designs," says Greg Hyslop, Boeing's CTO, in the press release. "Their work confirms a principle that's at the core of both Boeing and GoFly: aerospace innovation changes the world."

While the team is focused on next year's fly-off competition, they see the potential for a company taking off.

"If we're successful enough and attract enough attention, there is definitely interest in turning the team into an official company," says Runco. "We want to be able to sell these things."

Texas A&M Harmony has 12 team members and is advancing to the final round of the competition. Courtesy of GoFly

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Building Houston

 
 

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Thomas Vassiliades of BiVACOR, Katie Mehnert of ALLY Energy, and Don Whaley of OhmConnect Texas. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know — the first of this new year — I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from health care innovation to energy — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Thomas Vassiliades, CEO of BiVACOR

BiVACOR named Thomas Vassiliades as CEO effective immediately. Photo courtesy of BiVACOR

Thomas Vassiliades has been named CEO of BiVACOR, and he replaces the company's founder, Daniel Timms, in the position. BiVACOR is on track to head toward human clinical trials and commercialization, and Vassiliades is tasked with leading the way.

Vassiliades has over 30 years of experience within the medical device industry as well as cardiothoracic surgery. He was most recently the general manager of the surgery and heart failure business at Abiomed and held several leadership roles at Medtronic. Dr. Vassiliades received his MD from the University of North Carolina, and his MBA was achieved with distinction at Emory University.

“I am excited and honored to join the BiVACOR team, working closely with Daniel and the entire team as we look forward to bringing this life-changing technology to the market,” says Dr. Vassiliades in the release. “Throughout my career, I’ve been guided by the goal of bringing innovative cardiovascular therapies to the market to improve patient care and outcomes – providing solutions for those that don’t have one. BiVACOR is uniquely well-positioned to provide long-term therapy for patients with severe biventricular heart failure.” Click here to read more.

Katie Mehnert, CEO and founder of ALLY Energy

Katie Mehnert joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the future of energy amid a pandemic, climate change, the Great Resignation, and more. Photo via Katie Mehnert

Katie Mehnert started ALLY Energy — originally founded as Pink Petro — to move forward DEI initiatives, and she says she started with building an audience first and foremost, but now the technology part of the platform has fallen into place too. Last summer, ALLY Energy acquired Clean Energy Social, which meant doubling its community while also onboarding new technology. On the episode, Mehnert reveals that this new website and platform is now up and running.

"We launched the integrated product a few weeks back," Mehnert says. "The whole goal was to move away from technology that wasn't serving us."

Now, moving into the new year, Mehnert is building the team the company needs. She says she hopes to grow ALLY from two employees to 10 by the end of the year and is looking for personnel within customer support, product developers, and sales and service. While ALLY is revenue generating, she also hopes to fundraise to further support scaling. Click here to read more.

Don Whaley, president at OhmConnect Texas

Texas is about a month away from the anniversary of Winter Storm Uri — would the state fair better if it saw a repeat in 2022? Photo courtesy

The state of Texas is about a month away from the one year anniversary of Winter Storm Uri — but is the state better prepared this winter season? Don Whaley, president at OhmConnect Texas, looked at where the state is now versus then in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"Governor Abbott has gone on record guaranteeing that the lights will stay on this winter, and I am inclined to agree. With the reinforcement of our fuel systems being mandated by the Railroad Commission, 2023 to 2025 should receive the same guarantee," he writes. "Beyond that, as the demand for electricity in Texas continues to grow, we will need to rely on the initiatives under consideration by the PUCT to attract investment and innovation in new, dispatchable generation and flexible demand solutions to ensure long-term stability in the ERCOT market.

Whaley has worked for over 40 years in the natural gas, electricity, and renewables industries, with specific experience in deregulated markets across the U.S. and Canada. He founded Direct Energy Texas and served as its president during the early years of deregulation. Click here to read more.

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