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Aerospace engineering dominates international competitions

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

LAWRENCE — A team from the University of Kansas School of Engineering has once again earned top honors in an international aircraft engine design competition.

The nine-person team won the event sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, facing off in July against universities from China and India. KU’s team won with its proposed design to replace the PT6A-68B turboprop engine, a popular engine used in light aircraft for more than half a century.

“It’s such a good design no one’s tried to change it much,” said Antonio Schoneich, a 2017 KU aerospace engineering graduate who served as team leader during the competition’s final round. “Technology usually moves a lot quicker than that.”

The older turboprop engine contained complicated, circuitous ductwork to reduce the size of the engine, Schoneich said. The KU team design took advantage of modern, lighter materials — with higher heat tolerances — to produce a lighter “straight-through” engine that could produce turboprop speeds with greater efficiency.

Schoneich said one important lesson the team learned: Small increments of improvement, added together, can create a big leap in performance.

“As part of the team, my spot was to design the gas turbine part of the engine. I must have changed it a couple of hundred times, just a little bit each time. One of the things I took out of this was the time and effort that goes to increasing efficiency by half a percent,” he said.

The similarly small improvements made by other team members, he said, helped the overall design improve its efficiency by more than 20 percent. 

Schoneich stepped into the role of team leader late after the original leader, Thomas Row, left after graduation to take a job with SpaceX. 

This win extends KU’s mark of excellence in AIAA design competitions. Jayhawk aerospace engineering has earned more first- and second-place awards than any other academic institution in the world in the history of the competition.

Schoneich said that streak is due to the rigor that faculty advisers Saeed Farokhi and Ray Taghavi bring to the effort.

“A lot of teams left out certain things we went the extra mile to show in our report,” Schoneich said. “I can tell you the professors really worked hard to push us — they really pushed us to excel.”


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