USU Students Take First Place in Hypersonic Vehicle Design Challenge

May 28, 2024

For decades, the world declared supersonic flight to be "good enough" for commercial air travel. Some aerospace engineers aren’t quite satisfied.

A design team of mechanical and aerospace engineers at Utah State University outcompeted two other universities and designed a conceptual 20-passenger aircraft that could cross the Pacific Ocean in a little over two hours – traveling at five times the speed of sound.

A design team of mechanical and aerospace engineers at USU took first place for their conceptual 20-passenger hypersonic aircraft that could cross the Pacific Ocean in a little over two hours.

A design team of mechanical and aerospace engineers at USU took first place for their conceptual 20-passenger hypersonic aircraft that could cross the Pacific Ocean in a little over two hours.

Hypersonic vehicles enable a new class of flight that allow for quicker access to space, rapid military response at long range and eventually, a faster means of commercial air travel.

The course, taught remotely by Kevin Bowcutt, senior engineer of hypersonics at Boeing along with assistance from Associate Professor Doug Hunsaker, was also taught simultaneously at Texas A&M and the University of Maryland. Bowcutt lectured online, and each university had a team of students competing for the best design. The course covered vehicle design, propulsion design, thermal analysis, structural engineering, trajectory optimization and business economics. At the end, students submitted a final report to the judges and completed a one-hour presentation on their concept, covering all major areas of the design.

The USU team consisted of a mix of 16 graduate and undergraduate students with very little hypersonic background and was taught by senior engineer of hypersonics at Boeing Kevin Bowcutt. Photo Credit: Benjamin Ford

The USU team consisted of a mix of 16 graduate and undergraduate students with very little hypersonic background and was taught by senior engineer of hypersonics at Boeing Kevin Bowcutt. Photo Credit: Benjamin Ford

"In order for the United States to maintain its title as a world power, it is absolutely imperative for our nation to be producing the next generation of world-class Hypersonics experts," said Christine Case, a team lead. "The USU Hypersonics team tirelessly pursued creating the absolute best Mach 5 aircraft we could. Thank you to everyone who participated to help USU bring the gold home."

The USU team consisted of a mix of 16 graduate and undergraduate students with very little hypersonic background. The group’s vehicle design was selected for first place by a panel of distinguished industry and government leaders from NASA, Boeing and more.

"We all had a blast learning from Dr. Bowcutt and Dr. Hunsaker," said Josh Hurwitz, another co-team lead on the project. "It was a lot of work, but a very rewarding experience. I can’t wait to apply what I have learned to my future research and career."

Hypersonic travel is still a long way from being commercial, but engineers and industry are hopeful. All space vehicles are already hypersonic and military personnel use hypersonic missiles. With further research, experiments and observation, two-hour travel across the Pacific Ocean just might be possible.

###

Writer: Sydney Dahle, sydney.dahle@usu.edu, 435-797-7512

Contact: Doug Hunsaker, doug.hunsaker@usu.edu, 435-797-8404