Vertical Flight Foundation Scholarships

Home » Education » Featured Biographies

Derek Safieh Matheu

University of Maryland College Park

Derek Safieh is a Guatemalan Aerospace Engineer graduated from the University of Maryland. During his time at UMD, he worked at the Alfred Gessow Rotorcraft Center with Dr. Inderjit Chopra on the development of novel eVTOL tail-sitter configurations. Now he is a graduate student at Georgia Tech with Dr. Juergen Rauleder, focusing on ducted fans and electric thrusters for Regional Air Mobility.

How did you get interested in vertical flight?

"The field of aerospace engineering, specifically the aeronautical side, has been around me ever since I was a child. I was very lucky to live close to Guatemala’s major airport, meaning that I saw all types of aircraft and helicopters fly in and out. As a child I was simply amazed by them, so I started flying small RC helicopters to learn more about them. As I grew older, I started naturally selecting STEM-related toys such as the Lego Mindstorm robot kit and other emerging flying toys. My high school had a system that exposed students to every subject, from arts to sciences, but I always took more interest in the sciences. This led me to use the science fair as my playground and create rocket engines and quadcopters as my projects. With this passion and natural attraction to STEM, when the time came, I decided to pursue my studies in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Maryland.

After building my first quadcopter, I was fascinated, and I wanted to share my passion and knowledge with the developing drone community in Guatemala. Alongside one of my colleges from school, we created a camp called Drone Camp GT. In this camp, we provided our students with all the components and knowledge needed to build a quadcopter from scratch and guided them through the design, building, and flying stages. Our first camp consisted of a group of students with ages ranging 14 – 85 years old, it was very exciting to see people from all generations come together under a similar passion. The creation of this camp is one of my favorites experiences and it motivated me, even more, to study aerospace engineering and work on projects developing new VTOL concepts."

What impact has receiving the VFF scholarship had for you?

"It was an honor to be awarded the VFF scholarship. The award has bolstered my motivation to continue my work in VTOL technologies and to pursue a combination of hands-on and theoretical practices during my studies. After receiving the award, I was able to pursue my own research interest focusing on the application of non-planar wing configurations on Tail-Sitter type vehicles."

What are some of your current projects or research interests?

As an undergraduate researcher at the Alfred Gessow Rotorcraft Center (AGRC) I form part of the Quad-rotor Bi-Plane Tail-Sitter (QBiT) lead team. My initial research focused on the development of testing tools that could be adapted depending on the scale of the vehicle. One of the tools was the creation of a mobile wind tunnel test stand, which uses the flow over a moving car to produce wind tunnel-like conditions, permitting the study of multiple vehicle systems without the size and monetary constraints of a wind tunnel test. After some time at the Center, I led the construction and testing of a risk reduction version vehicle of the 20lb. QBiT currently in development. The goal with this is to understand the scalability of the subsystems of the vehicle and the identification of areas of improvement. In parallel to this project, I have been interested in the expansion of capabilities of these quadrotor-based tail-sitter VTOL concepts through the application of less conventional non-planar wing configurations, an area that has not been studied extensively. I am very interested in understanding how applying these configurations can have an impact on the reduction of overall drag of the vehicles, ultimately increasing their range and mission capabilities.

Tell us about your future plans.

"After finishing my undergraduate degree, I am planning on going to graduate school concentrating in the rotorcraft field. Ultimately, my goal is to create a company focusing on urban mobility solutions and the integration of VTOL technologies such as the QBiT to our daily lives."

What do Derek's mentors have to say?

"Derek is an Honors student in our Department of Aerospace Engineering and one of my research interns at the Alfred Gessow Rotorcraft Center at the University of Maryland. He is an extremely motivated individual and works quite independently. He has been working on the design and development of a unique experimental facility on the roof-top of an automobile to test 20-lb Quad-Biplane at different flight conditions. He has also made numerous design modifications to in-house built quad-biplane, which include built-driven propulsion system and refined composite blades. Overall, Derek's accomplishments at the Center have far exceeded our expectations."

Dr. Inderjit Chopra
University of Maryland

Read more VFF Scholarship success stories!

Meet Sourav

Meet Sicheng (Kevin)