Imperial College London

Mechanical Engineering alumni win Boeing personal flying machine competition


The Vantage design by team Leap

A team that includes several Mech Eng graduates and a current PhD student is one of the winners in Phase 1 of Boeing’s GoFly Prize.

Team Leap, with their design called Vantage, are the only UK entry amongst the ten winners, which were chosen from over 3,000 entries across 95 countries.

Karim Gharaibeh, an alumnus of our undergraduate course, is currently a PhD student in the department, working with Dr Aaron Costall. The acting CEO of Leap, Bruno Howard, and his teammates Nikhil Aggarwal and Sangeet Shah are also graduates of the MEng course at Imperial.

Here are a few words from Karim about the team’s win and their design:

What inspired you to join the GoFly competition?

GoFly is a gateway towards widespread adoption of personal flying machines that could one day be used for urban transportation. By entering the competition, we believe we are tackling a real global problem, a solution for which is going to benefit future generations.

How was the team formed and what are your respective roles in it?

Many of us knew each other from university, having studied mechanical engineering at Imperial together. We sifted through hundreds of people who had made profiles on the GoFly forum and contacted those that we were impressed by. Those that have joined us since have brought an impressive amount of experience and useful skillsets. We have people with many years’ experience in a range of areas as such safety systems and aircraft concept design, as well as graduates from some of the world’s leading universities. Most of us have also been co-founders of start-ups before, so we have experience in raising investment, formulating business plans, and other important non-engineering activities.

Tell us a bit about the process in designing Vantage and the main concept behind it.

The Vantage is a 5-rotor multi-copter with two pusher rotors providing forward thrust and the pilot in a motorcycle-style seating position. This allows fully independent roll, yaw, and pitch control as well as several layers of redundancy. The rotor layout was designed to offer maximum lifting area to make the most of the very limited available space. A series-hybrid powertrain with an internal combustion engine providing the power for 7 independent electric motors allows the Vantage to combine the benefits of high energy density from conventional fuel sources with the controllability and reliability of electric motors. Using buffer batteries allows the internal combustion engine to operate near its maximum efficiency point most of the time, contributing to overall system efficiency and reliability.

How do you see the future of individual flying machines?

For the aircraft of the future nothing is more important than safety. We don’t think the future of urban air transport will be dominated by piloted single seaters like this one, but rather autonomous multi-seater aircraft, and designing and operating these is the aim of Leap Aero. The principles of safety, redundancy, and controllability, embodied by the Vantage, will always need to be at the centre of design considerations, especially for a commercial aircraft.

How was your time as a Mechanical Engineering student at Imperial?

It was tough, but interesting! I had many long nights, but overall I really enjoyed the course.

What is your current PhD research in the department about, in a nutshell?

Turbocharger compressors can go through something called surge, which can be very dangerous for both the turbocharger and the engine. My research focuses on understanding and better predicting surge on large trucks.

The GoFly Prize was launched in 2017, with aerospace company Boeing as its Grand Sponsor and a total prize fund of $2 million. The purpose of the competition is to make human flight a reality through innovative devices that can carry a single person for twenty miles without refuelling. According to entry rules, the device must be safe, useful, and thrilling, but its design and function are up to the participants.

The Phase I winning teams will each receive a prize of £15,000. Winners can now begin work on turning their concepts into working prototypes to compete in Phase II, although the second stage is also open to teams that haven’t competed in Phase I. The organisers aim to end the competition with a fly-off between working devices. 


Nadia Barbu

Nadia Barbu
Department of Mechanical Engineering

Click to expand or contract

Contact details

Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 7090

Show all stories by this author