In the early days of commercial aviation, thousands of inventors and tinkerers developed multiple schemes for flying machines. A few ideas worked, but many others never got off the ground.

That same spirit of innovation is alive and well today with a new generation of aerospace engineers who are developing personal flying devices. They’re trying to win the GoFly Challenge, a $2 million competition sponsored by Boeing.

The goal of the two-year contest, which started one year ago, is to create a vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft that is compact, safe, quiet and capable of flying in urban settings.

Recently, 10 winners of the first phase of the GoFly Challenge were announced. They were selected from more than 160 entries submitted by teams from 33 countries. The finalists are from England, Holland, Japan, Latvia and the United States. American entries include teams from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Texas A&M University.

Phase II of the competition will consist of developing a prototype that can successfully perform vertical, or near-vertical, takeoff, followed by steady flight-out-of-ground effect, an aborted landing, and a vertical or near-vertical landing.

Winners of the next phase will be announced March 28, 2019. A final fly-off is scheduled to occur on Oct. 1, 2019.

“GoFly seeks to challenge competitors to create a personal flying device capable of being flown safely by anyone, anywhere,” says Gwen Lighter, CEO of GoFly Prize Group LLC. “Our goal is to be a catalyst for the future of flight. We are rethinking how humans get around in the 21st century.

“Not since the early days of powered flight have we seen so many new ideas,” claims Lighter. “There have been significant advances within the past five years in several important areas, including power and control systems, stability, rapid prototyping and even blade design. But, the most technically challenging part of the competition is fitting together our guidelines around noise, size and speed.”

One of the goals of the GoFly competition is to have a vehicle that is very easy for anyone to fly, not just an experienced pilot.

To overcome this hurdle, the Texas A&M team designed a compact rotorcraft called Harmony. “[We} designed the control system in a way that is very stable and easy enough to be flown with very minimal training,” says  Moble Benedict, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at Texas A&M. “[Our] design also has the pilot seated above the rotor to provide him or her a great field of view, unconstrained by a canopy, adding to the thrill of flying, much like riding a motorcycle.”

According to Benedict, there is a long road ahead before personal flying devices become commercially viable. However, they could be available within the next five to 10 years. One of the first applications for the aircraft may be delivering aid to disaster areas.

“For these devices to become more mainstream, we will need to work together with federal and international policy makers and experts to develop regulations promoting safety and enhancing mobility,” says Lighter.

“Personal flying devices have the potential to change the way we move, play and live,” Lighter points out. “When ready, these devices will play a key role in the future of transportation and may change the way we think about freeing up congestion in cities or even the way urban design is structured.”

“A truly practical personal air vehicle is something we have always dreamed of,” adds Benedict. “This will be a paradigm shift in the way we look at air transportation today and will have huge benefits to mankind in the future.”

In addition to providing a majority of the competition’s prize money, Boeing is supporting GoFly through a mentor and master’s program. Boeing engineers are serving as mentors and providing expertise in aircraft design, systems engineering, fabrication and testing.

To learn more about the GoFly Prize and see some of the designs. click here.