Vertical flying vehicle airfield project earns $10,000 award

Imagine car-sized drones that lift off vertically rather than needing a runway for takeoff and landing. These eVTOLs—electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles—are being developed around the world for both passenger and cargo use. As the new air transportation field emerges, so does the need for new aircraft infrastructure called a “vertiport.” That’s where senior engineering majors have stepped in to help.

As part of a senior capstone project titled Designing Advanced Air Mobility Infrastructure, nine teams of senior engineering cadets took part in a yearlong South Carolina case study at the Rock Hill County Airport. After evaluating operational parameters and creating designs last fall, the cadet teams delivered final recommendations to the South Carolina Aeronautics Commission and an advisory panel of national experts last May.

“Project designs developed by The Citadel students turned out far better than I could have ever imagined and have helped advance the professional dialog in our state on this coming aviation innovation,” said Gary Seigfried of the South Carolina Aeronautics Commission.

The project earned a National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying Engineering Education Award, which comes with a cash prize of $10,000. It also captured the attention of U.S. Representative Nancy Mace, ’99, who visited campus for a student-led briefing.

The high-impact learning experience attracted the support of several organizations, including Heliplanners, Beta Technologies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, South Carolina Aeronautics Commission, Rock Hill-York County Airport, Charleston International Airport Authority and Mead & Hunt Engineers.

“Students who completed this successful capstone project are now serving in the military, working as engineering professionals or headed to graduate degree programs,” said William J. Davis, Ph.D., PE, department head of civil, environmental and construction engineering. “Our graduates are exceptionally well prepared to contribute to planning, engineering and design of advanced air mobility infrastructure such as heliports, vertiports and high- density vertiplexes.”

The Aerospace Industries Association forecasts a $115 billion annual impact from the U.S. Advanced Air Mobility sector by 2035, adding 280,000 new jobs and $20 billion in exports by 2033.