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AME Students Earn First Place in AIAA Graduate Team Aircraft Design Competition


AME Students Earn First Place in AIAA Graduate Team Aircraft Design Competition

September 20, 2012 – A team of AME students, joined by students from UCLA and Cal State LA, won First Place at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) 2011-2012 Graduate Team Aircraft Design Competition with the proposal for Ghost, a next-generation, optionally-manned, long-range strategic bomber for the United States Air Force with an entry-into-service date of 2020-2025. The design requirements were for the ability to fly unmanned or with a two-person crew with a payload of between 20,000 and 50,000 pounds of ordnance. Additionally, the bomber was required to take advantage of stealth features, to be easily converted to carry nuclear weapons, and to be capable of operating out of any forward U.S. Air Force base.

A rendered view of the winning design, Ghost (left), and an inboard profile view of the interior (right) showing (from left to right) the cockpit module, avionics, in-flight refueling system, APU, payload, landing gear, and fuel modules.

The final design utilized a novel modular payload and cockpit system that allowed for a variety of payload, fuel, and even cockpit configurations capable of block upgrades that would allow Ghost to adapt to any previous, current, or even future unforeseen conflicts. A noteworthy feature was the alternate use of the helmet-mounted optical system that was developed for the F-35. This system allowed live images, targeting, radar, and additional information to be displayed on the pilot's helmet and/or displays, which allowed the introduction of a cockpit module that had no windshield and could be replaced with fuel or avionics modules for optimal unmanned operations.

A cutaway top view of Ghost and (from left to right) its radar-absorbing skin, propulsion, cockpit module, payload bay with ordnance and fuel modules, APU, landing gear, and wing structure that utilizes radar-absorbing structure at the leading edge of the wings.

The team, officially named Southern California Aircraft Design (SCAD), was represented by Graduate and Undergraduate students from several engineering disciplines at USC, including Aerospace, Electrical, and Mechanical. For the second year in a row, students from UCLA and Cal State LA participated on the USC-based team, which capitalized on video-teleconferencing technology available in Viterbi's classrooms to enable non-USC students to participate in team meetings virtually. Several members of SCAD were also on the USC design team that earned Third Place at the AIAA 2009-2010 Undergraduate Team Design Competition with a proposal for an advanced, alternative-fuel commercial aircraft.

The modular capability of the payload bays, such as the moveable bulkhead, common rotary launcher, and fuel modules, allowed Ghost to tailor its weapons loadout and fuel capacity to meet any number of specific mission requirements.

The breadth and scope of the challenge was unprecedented in USC's AIAA Graduate Team Aircraft Design history. Initial work on the project began in September 2011 with research into stealth, payload, and short-term technology readiness surveys. Approximately 15 US and allied air bases were selected along with nearly 40 potential "targets" around the globe to analyze required combat range and potential air-refueling requirements. Several design concepts were selected and preliminary trade studies were performed to narrow the final design concepts to a variable sweep bomber capable of short supersonic sprints and to a "flying-wing" concept that eventually became the winning design, Ghost. The Spring semester was spent refining the overall aerodynamic configuration, performing stealth design trade studies using MATLAB-based radar cross section analysis software, researching and designing detailed sub-systems, and selecting the propulsion system.

Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analyses were performed on the fuselage and wing surfaces of Ghost to verify and improve traditional analysis techniques.

SCAD used a combination of traditional analytic optimization methods and advanced computational fluid dynamics analysis to improve and verify performance characteristics in a swift yet rigorous method. Upon final performance verifications, the ultimate product was a 100-page proposal that was planned and composed for submission on June 11th for evaluation by the AIAA judges.

As a result of the team's success, several members will be presenting the design this month at the 12th AIAA Aviation Technology, Integration, and Operations (ATIO) Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. Furthermore, the team is already making preparations to compete in the 2012-2013 AIAA Graduate Team Aircraft Design competition for a high altitude long endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial system (UAS) for missile defense using a directed energy (DE) laser. Any interested graduate and undergraduate students interested in participating on this new and unique project are welcome to join the team by contacting Samantha Graves (

The team would like to express the utmost gratitude for the help and support provided by their faculty advisors over the nine months spent working on the project: Dr. Charles Radovich, and Dr. Geoffrey Spedding. A special thanks to USC alum, also a USC Aircraft Design Team alum, Sina Golshany of The Boeing Company, for his advice, help, and encouragement. Furthermore, the support provided by Samantha Graves and Silvana Martinez-Vargas was crucial for the team's organization and execution of the final product.

Members of the 2011-2012 AIAA Graduate Aircraft Design Competition Winning Team, SCAD:
University of Southern California
Supachai Anuyouthapong
Richard Boles
Darin Gaytan
Keith Holmlund
Sahil Kabra
Sean Keil
Geoff Legg
Andrew Levinson
Alan Liu
Jorge Montoya
Si Shen
Zhipeng Wang
Ying Wu
Mikey Zarem

University of California, Los Angeles
Mark Alphonso
Sanjeev Datta
Kirsten Gradel
Azadeh Keyvani
Jen Lee

California State University, Los Angeles
Bahram Peace

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