Three RMIT students have finished second at the final of the 2017 Airbus Fly Your Ideas competition, a global hunt for ideas to transform the aviation industry.
They were one of just five student teams to make the finals of the €30,000 competition, from more than 350 entries worldwide. As runners-up, the team won €15,000 (about $AU22,500).
As part of the contest, run in partnership with UNESCO, the teams had to answer one of five challenges identified by Airbus to provide sustainable future solutions for the industry.
RMIT’s team Aquarius was the only team from the Southern Hemisphere to get to the final stage, held over a week at the Airbus ProtoSpace facility in Toulouse, France.
Together with the other finalist teams – from France, Hong Kong, Nigeria and the UK – they had to prototype, test and visualise their ideas using state‐of‐the‐art equipment with personal guidance from Airbus.
At the end of the week, the students presented their innovative projects and the newly-developed prototypes in front of Airbus experts and high-profile figures from the aerospace and academic world.
Before the final round begun, RMIT News talked to team members – Bachelor of Engineering (Aerospace Engineering) (Honours) student Philipp Klink, Bachelor of Applied Science (Aviation)/Bachelor of Business (Management) student Kerry Phillips, and PhD (Aerospace Engineering) candidate Anil R. Ravindran – about their progression into the final round of the competition.
Take us through your innovative idea – what are the main objectives?
Phillips: Our idea is to use a removable fire retardant tank which could quickly change any aircraft into an aerial fire fighting tool. It would be able to drop large amounts of fire retardant to help extinguish bushfires.
Ravindran: The system would be low-cost and able to be quickly attached to existing cargo planes. It would mean the creation of a global aerial fire fighting network.
Klink: We propose creating the tanks to fit Airbus’s multi-role A400M aircraft. We believe there is a huge need for international collaboration on fire fighting, for more economical and efficient operation.
What made you decide to enter and what did you have to do to get this far?
Klink: I’ve always enjoyed computer aided design so I knew I could put my modelling skills to good use within an Airbus Fly Your Ideas team. Not surprisingly, my main job has been to create digital graphics to explain and display our concept.
I think it’s helped that all three of us have been working together from the very start. I've really enjoyed it – so that's been an added bonus.
Ravindran: I think we’ve made it this far not only because our idea has generated a lot of interest but because we’ve been able to develop a thorough business model.
Klink: Kerry has been able to offer a business perspective because unlike Anil and I, she’s also studying business management. We work well as a team.
How did your studies at RMIT prepare you for this experience?
Phillips: I consider myself lucky to be an RMIT student because I am constantly given the opportunity to develop my interpersonal, professional and academic skills. These opportunities combined with the extremely high value RMIT places on student-created innovation have led me to being a finalist in the competition.
Ravindran: The well-known and distinguished aerospace engineering and aviation course has prepared me for many aspects in terms of designing aircrafts, systems, business models, testing validations and most importantly, industry engagement.
As an RMIT alumnus and current PhD researcher, I am proud to say the undergraduate degree also prepared me for industry and research. This helped my team in our submission for the competition.
Klink: Flying has been my passion from a very young age. After high school I was very keen to learn about the aerospace industry and I feel RMIT has given me every chance to do so, presenting me with international opportunities along the way and giving me the necessary knowledge to succeed in the field.
What elements of the competition have you found surprising?
Klink: There hasn't been any great competitiveness among the other teams, more so a shared curiosity and interest in each other's work, ideas and even culture.
The whole competition has been a pleasant surprise, with a few little unexpected things happening along the way, such as our entry into the final round.
Phillips: When my team feels the pressures of the competition, we usually go out for dumplings and have a good laugh to help us relax and refocus.
In your opinion, what will be some of the major innovations in aviation or aerospace engineering in the next decade?
Klink: I'm hopeful the aviation industry will translate to greater international collaboration in the near future – a pooling of international resources with less nationalistic thinking.
Ravindran: I believe future innovation of the aerospace engineering industry – both civilian and military – will be based on the development of aircraft structures that can detect damage, self-heal and generate power simultaneously.
Philips: I think the industry will implement global solutions to worldwide problems and not be solely bound by individual nationalistic endeavours.
The winning team will take home €30,000 – what will you do with the money?
Klink: If we win, I don't think I'd be allowed to solely claim the whole €30,000 unfortunately – we've agreed to share it evenly among ourselves.
The team was supervised in the competition by Dr Graham Dorrington, Senior Lecturer in the School of Engineering.
Members of another RMIT team - Andrew Brakema, Andrew Sayer, Darien Colbeck and Xing Chai - made a video for the competition, finishing as runners-up.
Story: Aeden Ratcliffe