A distributed propulsion engine designed by US Air Force Academy cadets won a DOD research competition for the most innovative project to address warfighter challenges. The competition, sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, asked teams from the mechanical and aeronautical engineering departments of the US Naval Academy, the US Military Academy, and USAFA, to design something innovative that considered impact to the warfighter. Given only those guidelines as judging criteria, 10 Academy teams began working on “projects ranging from developing unmanned aerial systems to serve as wingmen for the F-22 Raptors, to miniaturized swarms of unmanned aerial vehicle systems that perform reconnaissance and intelligence missions,” states a May 3 Academy release. The top three from a local competition were sent to compete in the DARPA Challenge this week. The winning project was developed by assistant professor of aeronautics Lt. Col. A.J. Rolling and his cadet team, whose patent-pending distributed propulsion engine saved at least 50 percent of fuel costs in lab trials by using “bleed” air to increase fuel efficiency. DARPA awarded over $200,000 to the USAFA for teams to be able to compete in the pilot project.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.