Since its development in the 1940s, the helicopter has been used to help rescue victims of natural and human-made disasters and now university students from across the nation hope to improve upon the helicopter’s basic design to better respond to future disasters.

The 20th annual American Helicopter Society (AHS) Student Design Competition was sponsored by NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., Stratford, Conn. The contest challenged university students to design a vertical lift urban disaster response vehicle that can respond to emergency situations in high-rise buildings. The annual competition, for which NASA is a major underwriter, is designed to give students a practical engineering exercise and promote interest in vertical flight technology.

“NASA is pleased to participate in this effort to inspire the next generation of explorers through the applications of the principles of engineering physics to the design of a vertical-flight system for urban disaster relief,” said Ed Aiken, chief of the NASA Ames Rotorcraft Division.  “I am very impressed with the creativity and scientific rigor of the results.”

A student team from the University of Maryland took first place in the graduate category with Georgia Institute of Technology capturing second-place honors. In the undergraduate category, The Pennsylvania State University won first place, with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute coming in a close second and Iowa State University placing third.

Top teams will be invited to present their designs at the American Helicopter Society’s Annual Forum and Technology Display to be held in Baltimore, Md., on June 8-10, 2004. The forum is the vertical-flight industry’s principal professional technical event.

For more information about the AHS Student Design Competition, visit:

For more information about the Rotorcraft Division at NASA Ames, visit: