Next-Gen: Upgrading Urban Air Mobility Via Engineering

Student Competition Profile: SAE’s AeroConnect Challenge

Student Competition Profile: SAE’s AeroConnect Challenge

The AeroConnect Challenge, an embedded event at SAE International held in conjunction with SAE AeroTech, challenges students to develop and present a solution to a panel of aerospace engineer judges. Images courtesy of Jim Romeo.

The AeroConnect Challenge is an embedded event in the Emerging Technology Series at SAE International. Sponsored by Boeing and held in conjunction with SAE AeroTech, the competition challenges students to develop and present a solution to a panel of aerospace engineers who serve as judges. The challenge focuses on emergent technological advances in aerospace engineering, with 2022’s competition looking at urban air mobility. Teams were challenged to develop a concept for a people-moving system with special considerations for fault analysis and safety.

Zac Pace is educational program development specialist for emerging technologies at SAE International. We spoke to Pace about this challenge. Here’s how our conversation went:

Digital Engineering: Can you provide an overview of the AeroConnect Challenge?

Zac Pace: In 2022 we had four teams competing from North America: two U.S. (one in Puerto Rico), one Mexican and one Canadian team. The participants are university students who are studying engineering and have a passion for developing innovative solutions to present-day challenges in urban air mobility.

The AeroConnect Challengechallenges students to develop and present a solution to a panel of aerospace engineers. 

By holding AeroConnect Challenge in conjunction with SAE AeroTech, we enable these students to also engage and network at a high level with industry professionals, as well as attend the keynote presentations and an extensive schedule of technical presentations coordinated by my colleagues in the professional event space. The embedded nature of the program opens many doors for these students as they prepare to enter the professional sector.

DE: Can you tell us about some of the designs?

Pace: Each of the teams participating in the AeroConnect Challenge were charged to develop a concept design around urban air mobility. The teams proposed a people-moving solution for air passengers to get from LAX to their final location in the Los Angeles Basin. Each of the designs proposed by the teams was unique, and each was analyzed to ensure safety and ease of transport for passengers.

DE: Can you provide some examples of what the event has produced?

Pace: AeroConnect Challenge has produced student competitors who are forward-thinking and prepared to enter the professional engineering community with experience developing concepts and presenting them for review. As part of the competition, we require teams to submit concept design reports, as well as hazard and fault analyses—standard practices that will inform their careers.

DE: Does SAE, or the consortium of organizers of this competition, have a particular stance on adopting an innovation that is linked to the program? 

Pace: Competitors retain the rights to their intellectual property. We rely on volunteers and sponsors to serve as reviewers for submitted documents, as well as to judge the presentations from teams. Our sponsors partner with us to advance our mission at SAE to advance mobility knowledge and solutions for the benefit of humanity. AeroConnect Challenge is focused on innovation— the competitors propose solutions that are original and unique, and in so doing they are truly engaging with innovation at the highest level.

DE: Anything else you’d like to tell us about the event that the above questions haven’t given you the opportunity to express?

Pace: The AeroConnect Challenge is one of several concept-design based and embedded programs we offer in conjunction with SAE Professional Events. Interested parties can learn more about the programs we offer to university students.

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Jim Romeo

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, VA. Send e-mail about this article to

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