Press Release: 2023 Student Design Winners

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August 25, 2023
Technical Programs Director
1-703-684-6777 x103 

The Vertical Flight Society Announces the Winners of the 
40th Annual Student Design Competition 

University of Maryland and
Georgia Institute of Technology/US Military Academy take top honors

SDC 2023: Graduate Category SDC Winning Team - Arion image
Arion: University of Maryland
1st Place Graduate Category
SDC 2023: Under-Graduate Category SDC Winning Team - The Harpy image
The Harpy: GA Tech / US Military Academy
1st Place Undergraduate Category

Fairfax, Virginia, USA — The Vertical Flight Society (VFS) today announces the winners of its 40th Annual Student Design Competition. The team of University of Maryland took first place in the Graduate category and Georgia Institute of Technology/US Military Academy in the Undergraduate category. In addition, the Military Institute of Science & Technology (Bangladesh) took Best New Undergraduate Entrant honors. Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Co. was the sponsor of this year’s competition with a total of $12,500 in prize money.

Each year, the VFS competition challenges students to design a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft that meets specified requirements, providing a practical exercise for engineering students at colleges and universities to promote student interest in VTOL engineering and technology. 

Academic teams from around the world submitted entries in this year’s competition, with a total of 13 proposals from four different countries. Executive summaries for the top-winning entries from the 40th Student Design Competition are available at, along with past winners.

The 40th (2022-2023) Student Design Competition was entitled, “High-Speed Vertical Takeoff and Landing (HSVTOL) Aircraft.” The goal of this year’s Request for Proposals (RFP) was to design a large VTOL aircraft that would balance sustained hover operations with high-speed and high-altitude cruise capabilities. 

Students had to design an aircraft capable of carrying a payload of 5,000 lb (2,268 kg) within an internal cargo bay with dimensions of 6.5 ft (1.98 m) high, 8 ft (2.43 m) wide and 30 ft (9.14 m) long at a mission radius of action of 500 nm (926 km) and a cruise speed of no less than 450 kt (833 km/h) at a threat-avoidance altitude greater than 20,000 ft (6,096 m) mean sea level (MSL). The vehicle design also needed to include features to mitigate the severity of the outwash/downwash environment on ground personnel, as well as minimize the susceptibility of the propulsion system to Foreign Object Debris (FOD) ingestion during VTOL operations.

The winning teams for the graduate category are as follows:

Place University (Graduate) City, Country Design Team
1st University of Maryland College Park, Maryland, USA Arion

Georgia Institute of Technology
Sapienza University

Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Rome, Italy

3rd Politecnico di Milano Milan, Italy Raven 4


The winning entry in the graduate category was University of Maryland’s “Arion” — named for the immortal mythical horse that was known for his extraordinary speed and bravery. The team’s design is a 48,000-lb (21,800-kg) mixed-power tiltrotor with two 39-ft (11.9-m) proprotors. Arion is powered by two inboard turboshaft engines plus two turbofans on the base of the tail for additional forward thrust.

The winning teams for the undergraduate category are as follows:

Place University (Undergraduate) City, Country Design Team

Georgia Institute of Technology/
US Military Academy

Atlanta, Georgia, USA
West Point, New York, USA

The Harpy
2nd University of Maryland College Park, Maryland, USA Karfi
3rd  Pennsylvania State University State College, Pennsylvania, USA NightFury
Best New Entrant

Military Institute of Science & Technology

 Mirpur Contonment, Dhaka, Bangladesh MIST AVRO


The team of Georgia Institute of Technology and The US Military Academy was the winning undergraduate team with its “Harpy” concept. The name was inspired by harpy eagles known for carrying heavy weights and harpies from mythology which are half-human and half-bird — much like the team’s design, which is half-VTOL and half-jet. The 51,500-lb (23,350-kg) vehicle leverages a novel configuration of its two 36-ft (20-m) diameter, two-bladed rotors mounted on the wingtips: for high-speed forward flight, the rotors are stopped and its retreating blades are stored in the wings. This method allows the drag to be minimized while still allowing the advancing blades to remain as useful lifting surfaces in the flow. The aircraft is powered by two convertible engine system technology (CEST) turbofan/turboshaft engines to drive the rotors and provide cruise thrust. 

Two members of each of the first-place winning teams are invited to the 80th Annual Forum & Technology Display ( — scheduled for May 7–9, 2024 in Montreal, Canada — to present the details of their designs. 

The Annual Student Design Competition sponsorship rotates between Airbus Helicopters, Bell, The Boeing Co., Bell, Leonardo, Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Co. and the DEVCOM Army Research Lab.

As announced previously, the 2023–2024 RFP for the 41st Annual Student Design Competition, sponsored by DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory, is also now available at A total of $12,500 in cash prizes is again available to the winning student teams. University teams must submit a letter of intent to participate no later than Feb. 1, 2024.

This new RFP is entitled, “Multi-Mission Modular UAS for Disaster Relief,” and challenges students with designing a multi-mission, modular, VTOL uncrewed aircraft system (UAS) that can: take off and land vertically from the deck of a ship in high-winds and gusty conditions; cruise to and from the site of a disaster; and serve as a long-endurance communications relay or land vertically to deliver relief supplies.

The Vertical Flight Society is the world’s premier vertical flight technical society. Since it was founded as the American Helicopter Society in 1943, the Society has been a major force in the advancement of vertical flight. VFS is the global resource for information on vertical flight technology. For nearly 80 years, it has provided global leadership for scientific, technical, educational and legislative initiatives that advance the state of the art of vertical flight.

VFS is @VTOLsociety on social media: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Mastodon, TikTok, Threads, Twitter, Vimeo and YouTube, and has @ElectricVTOL channels on Facebook, Mastodon and Twitter.

This press release is also available as a pdf .

The Vertical Flight Society
2700 Prosperity Ave, Suite 275, Fairfax, VA 22031 USA
+1-703-684-6777 | |