Graduate Student Team Wins Vertical Flight Society Design Competition

Graduate Student Team Wins Vertical Flight Society Design Competition

Accessible air taxi

By Tracey Leibach

October 26, 2022

Air taxi designed for passengers with reduced mobility

A team of Rensselaer graduate students recently took home the top honors at the 39th Annual Student Design Competition of the Vertical Flight Society (VFS) for their “Oliwhoper,” an air taxi designed for passengers with reduced mobility (PRM).

Each year, the VFS competition challenges students to design a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft that meets specified requirements, providing a practical exercise for engineering students at colleges and universities to promote student interest in VTOL engineering and technology.

Academic teams from around the world submitted entries in this year’s competition, with a total of 14 proposals from four different countries.

This year’s competition — “eVTOL Air Taxi for Passengers with Reduced Mobility (PRM)” — challenged students to design an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) concept that takes into consideration a broad spectrum of travelers that includes persons with disabilities of all types.

Students had to design an eVTOL aircraft with that met the specified air taxi mission. In addition, teams had to design the cockpit, cabin, and baggage compartment to accommodate a single pilot and no less than two passengers with disabilities, and alternative seating of four passengers with full mobility.

The “Oliwhoper” was chosen in the graduate student category for its “accessible cabin design, effective aerodynamic performance, and a user-friendly design for all passengers to travel comfortably and reliably to their destination,” according to VFS.

Using state-of-the-art rotorcraft analysis tools developed at Rensselaer, “our team was able to design a highly efficient 10-rotor aircraft that can complete the 100-mile mission in under 40 minutes using minimal power,” said Richard Healy, a Ph.D. student and captain of the Rensselaer team. “The spacious cabin was also developed with a universal design approach, where features intended for those with disabilities end up improving the experience for everyone.  We are thrilled to have won this year’s competition, especially with our relatively small but dedicated team.”

Other team members include:  Abhishek Chopra, Alexander Stillman, Anubhav Halder, Gaurav Makkar, and Matthew Bahr.

Two members of each of the first-place winning teams are invited to the 79th Annual Forum & Technology Display ( — scheduled for May 16–18, 2023 in West Palm Beach, Florida — to present the details of their designs.

Bell was the sponsor of this year’s competition, with a total of $12,500 in prize money. The competition’s sponsorship rotates between Airbus, Bell, Boeing, Bell, Leonardo, Sikorsky, and the U.S. Army Research Lab.


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