The current air vehicle design process has evolved to meet the needs of the manned system. Manned vehicles are very expensive to produce, spend a long time in service and have to be designed to be safe – particularly from the pilot's point of view. For these reasons the design process is also expensive, highly complex and takes a long time to complete.
Over the past 20 years the use of computer modelling has developed rapidly and computational tools are used extensively in aerodynamic and structural design and in the design and evaluation of the flight control system. So much work is now done in simulation that use of many of the traditional tools such as wind tunnels, structural test machines etc have been reduced to a very low level and, in some cases, has been removed.
However, the traditional approach to air vehicle design does suffer from a number of problems
All these issues point to the need for the production of a flying vehicle at the very earliest stage in an aircraft, (manned or unmanned) programme. Until recently, this was impossible for manned systems. However, the development of advanced UAV capability makes “rapid prototyping” possible.
Rapid Prototyping has the potential to deliver total aerodynamic definition including all control effects, derivatives and damping terms. For certain classes of Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV) these could be accurate full scale values. In projects for which the prototype is a scale model, there would be scale effects to allow for. However, the design team still gets good data and design tools that can be evaluated against the sub-scale data.
Cranfield Aerospace is leading the world in the provision of rapid prototyping capability through the use of sub-scale flight demonstrators on the Boeing Blended Wing Body (X-48) programme.
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