SolidWorks – Connecting aircraft design


One hundred years ago, British inventors were scrambling to be the first to make it to the skies; as of July 2011, thanks to approval in the US, engineers have made it possible to fly before pulling up in a driveway.

The Oakington Plane was built in 1909 by two Cambridgeshire residents - Grose & Feary - in a Daily Mail competition for the prize of £1,000 for the first all-British plane piloted by a Briton to fly a circular mile. In 1998 Innova Systems customer Nick Harrison set about rebuilding the legendary monoplane with the aid of state-of-the-art 3D CAD software, SolidWorks.

The excitement that surrounded the race to the skies at the turn of the 20th Century has been rekindled this July as Terrafugia ‘flee the land’ once more as we venture further into the 21st Century. The Terrafugia Transition is a two-seater flying car which made the news this week when the Civil Aviation Authority confirmed that flying cars could be commonplace in UK airspace as soon as 2016.

SolidWorks’s involvement in pushing the boundaries of flight has been significant, playing a major part in not only the design of the Terrafugia Transition but also in Nick Harrison’s redesign of the Oakington Plane. Nick does so under the guidance of SolidWorks reseller, Innova Systems.


The Terrafugia Transition

Terrafugia used SolidWorks to model their flying car, the Transition, and make the precise calculations needed to meet both aircraft and road vehicle safety and performance standards. As a dual-purpose vehicle, the Transition had to be light enough to get off the ground, yet sturdy enough to pass government regulations for crash safety. Terrafugia used SolidWorks Simulation to calculate the amount of material that could be reduced without compromising the vehicle’s performance.

The hybrid aircraft was unveiled to the public last weekend and its two prototypes are expected to go into mass-production next year. One hundred customers have each made a modest deposit of around £6,250 for the flying car, just 4% of the craft’s £156,000 price tag.


The Oakington Plane

SolidWorks seems to be the CAD solution of choice for aircraft enthusiasts, with local designer Nick Harrison in the process of using it to bring back to life a monoplane conceived back in 1909. “It was in 1998 when I discovered a copy of a hand written document, which gave details of the monoplane and the men that built it,” says Harrison. He then found that someone in the village had a photo of it and was hooked therein. Harrison used all of the documentation that he could lay his hands on as a base for a redesign of the monoplane in SolidWorks, as supplied and trained by Innova Systems.

The redesign process was made much easier by SolidWorks’s ability to convert a photograph into a sketch. Harrison started with a 1:1 outline drawing and had it scanned so that it could be imported into SolidWorks. It was then just a case of tracing over with good geometry to produce a rib model.

Today, Harrison is a proud owner of a rib model of the legendary Oakington Plane. He is currently working to reverse engineer a scarce vintage 3hp motorcycle engine by taking a 3D scan of the engine to create another SolidWorks sketch. The Innova Systems team watch with anticipation.


Mark Bradford, Managing Director of Innova Systems comments “Here we have two very different examples in using SolidWorks. Firstly, an enthusiast using the power of SolidWorks to help reverse engineer from sketchy details a plane that never flew. Secondly, an example of a company formed by MIT-trained aeronautical engineers, embracing the challenges of the US Civil Aviation Authority to get a lightweight but structurally sound amazing aircraft”.


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