"The Liberty"--an electrically powered, hydrogen-fueled, twin-prop, corporate air taxi aircraft designed by undergraduate aerospace and industrial engineering students from Virginia Tech and Loughborough University in the United Kingdom--has won first place in the NASA Revolutionary Vehicles Concepts and Systems Competition.

The competition, sponsored by the NASA Langley Research Center's Aerospace Vehicle Systems Technology Office, challenged students to develop innovative concepts and systems for all types of future aircraft. The 10 university entries submitted this year were reviewed by engineers from NASA Langley, Pratt & Whitney and NASA Glenn Research Center's Quiet Green Propulsion Project.

The Virginia Tech/Loughborough team designed The Liberty to take advantage of modern fuel cell and hydrogen storage technology. The five-person corporate air taxi is powered by twin electric motor driven propellers and a liquid hydrogen fuel cell system. The system for The Liberty had to be lighter in weight and higher in efficiency than fuel cell systems designed for automobiles, so the team designed new systems for pressure control, heat exchange and fuel storage.

"This year's team took on the challenge of developing not only a practical design for a hydrogen fuel cell powered airplane, but also of designing an operational infrastructure that would ensure its commercial success," said Jim Marchman, professor of aerospace and ocean engineering at Virginia Tech. Marchman and professor Gary Page of Loughborough are the team's advisers.

This is the sixth year that Virginia Tech and Loughborough students have collaborated in aircraft competitions. In previous NASA-sponsored general aviation design competitions, Virginia Tech/Loughborough teams have twice won first place, and also second place, third place and an honorable mention.

"This year marked a new competition, one that included all types of aircraft in addition to those classified as general aviation," said Elizabeth Ward, director of education and outreach support for NASA Langley's Aerospace Vehicle Systems Technology Office. "This difference makes the achievement of the Virginia Tech/Loughborough team all the more significant."

A team from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University's Prescott, Ariz. campus placed second in this year's competition and a University of Kansas industrial design team placed third. Other notable entries, according to the NASA Langley competition website, included a supersonic vehicle, a turbofan engine, a rotor craft and a flapping wing.

The winning teams will present their designs and receive their awards on August 2 during the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture 2003 in Oshkosh, Wis. Cash awards for the top three teams range from $5,000 to $1,000.

The 2004 competition will begin on August 15, and details will be posted by NASA Langley at http://avst.larc.nasa.gov/competition.html. A high school division is also part of the competition.