From conception to realization: A case study of aircraft design laboratory course

Amit Batra‡, Jai Mirpuri‡, Praveen Gill‡, Harimohan Navinkumar‡ Rajkumar Pant#

Senior Undergraduate students # Associate Professor

Aerospace Engineering Department, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai 400076, India.

Abstract Conceptual design contributes strongly towards development of engineering judgment, and hence is considered to be an essential part of engineering education worldwide. This paper brings out the importance of student design projects in teaching aircraft conceptual design to university undergraduate students. The course contents of an existing aircraft design laboratory course were revamped from theoretical/computational work to a more practical, hands-on experience for the students. The students were divided into teams and were asked to design remotely controlled model aircrafts to meet specific performance requirements, which were evaluated against a figure of merit. The paper describes the various designs of the aircraft that were considered, and brings out the lessons learnt and experience gained, both from students’ and instructor’s point of view. Introduction As a part of the curriculum of the undergraduate program in aerospace engineering at IITBombay, an aircraft design laboratory course is conducted during the first semester the fourth year. This is preceded by a theory course on Aircraft Design. For several years, the students were being exposed to the aircraft design procedures by making them do hand-calculations in aircraft conceptual design. They were also being encouraged to write computer codes, or use commercially available software tools to carry out the design. Of late, it was realized that the laboratory course was not very different from the theory course, and there was little scope for the students to study innovative concepts and gain practical exposure. The course curriculum was reformed to introduce an element of creativity and competition while imparting practical, real-life experience on the intricacies of design activity.

Course organization This course for the undergraduate students holds five academic credits for which three hours of instructions are allotted in a week. For this activity the idea of team meetings and brainstorming sessions was evolved instead of classroom sessions. Various specific tasks were identified and a schedule was prepared for the whole semester in advance. In addition to this, lectures by professional aeromodellers and other experienced people were planned. The students were required to complete a group project involving the design of a remotely controlled aircraft to meet a specified mission. The group project was aimed to achieve the following learning goals for the students: 1. To provide ‘hands-on’ experience related to Aircraft Design 2. To be able to plan and execute a multi-disciplinary design task


3. To be able to successfully present the results of the design task verbally and in the form of a report and drawings. 4. To learn to work efficiently in a group and as a member of the group The specific tasks to be carried out by the students were: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. Study of the various aircraft concepts that can carry out this mission Carrying out initial sizing studies Geometrical sizing of wing, fuselage, tails, payload bay Deciding the aircraft layout and aerofoil cross-sections Design of mechanism for payload release Preparation of detailed drawings and instructions for the aero-modeler Liaison with the aero-modeler during construction and flying Preparation of a detailed design report

For this purpose, the class was divided into four groups each consisting of 5 or 6 students with one member as the group leader. Within a group, individual students were assigned specific responsibilities viz., literature survey and documentation, design or liaise with the aero modeler. Initially, all the four groups were to work independently. After four weeks, all groups were to make a presentation on their concept, and submit a report on their design. The best two out of the four concepts were to be chosen for further study, and then two groups were to be merged. The two groups were then required to prepare the detailed production drawings and plans, and submit them for construction. They were then required to liaise with the model maker, incorporate any changes/modifications and test fly the model, before its final evaluation.

The Schedule The stage-wise breakdown of the task, along with the time allotted for each stage was as follows: Tasks Problem Formulation Literature Survey Conceptual Design Selection of two concepts Prepare report and production drawings Model fabrication Modifications Flight Testing Evaluation 1 * 2 * * 3 * * 4 5 6 WEEK NUMBER 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Criteria for evaluation of the students The weightage for various tasks was assigned as under: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 20% for ingenuity of the concepts and the design philosophy employed 15% for the report and presentation related to the conceptual design 20% for clarity and detail of the drawings and construction instructions 20% for the performance of the end-product vis-à-vis the mission requirements 25% for the quality and technical detail in the final design report


Resources made available to students 1. Books related to model aircraft design and aerodynamics 2. Powerplant system with propeller and fuel tank 3. Professional help for construction of model as per drawings, and flight-testing. The students were expected to carry out this task without seeking any direct help or guidance from the faculty members, staff members, or other students of the institute. Each team was to discuss their progress and problems faced by them during the weekly meetings. Design objectives The aircraft was to be designed around a given powerplant system i.e. engine, propeller and fuel weight. The mission was identified as typical of a model power-assisted glider. The details of the mission and the design objectives were laid down as follows: Design an aircraft having minimum all-up weight and lowest overall cost, that remains airborne with a specified payload till a given amount of fuel runs out, after which the payload is dropped, and the aircraft is glided back safely to the starting point. The payload was a wooden blackboard duster (weighing 0.157 kg), and the engine used was OS MAX 15LA model engine, details of which are given in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Three-View Drawings of the OS MAX 15LA engine The overall cost included the cost of basic material, equipments such as servo-controllers, engine, propeller and the cost of construction of the model. Release mechanism An important part of the design was that of the payload release mechanism. Students were told to device mechanism using which payload drop can be initiated at desirable time during the aircraft’s mission.

Phases of the activity Literature Survey The students did not have any prior experience in aeromodelling; hence they started off by browsing through a number of websites (e.g., [1], [2] and [3]) to get an overview of aeromodelling. This provided them an insight to the different types of model aircraft such as glider, trainer, aerobatic models, and the different materials and methods used for construction of radio3

controlled models. The design of a model aircraft requires knowledge about various issues like weight estimation, selection of design parameters, wing design, airfoil selection and choice of correct materials. Guidelines for design of such models were obtained from standard reference books for design of radio controlled model aircraft, such as [4] and [5]. Next, the attention was focused on obtaining details of specific designs of model gliders for similar mission requirements. Literature related to new model aircraft designs such as Turning Point [6] and Ole Man Mose [7] helped in drawing a few important conclusions about the design features. As mentioned above, each group had to submit full-scale drawings of their designs with all the details like, the spar location, number of ribs to be used, the payload drop mechanism, the location of the payload, and the position of the servos. Hence, sample drawings of model gliders (e.g. [8]) were obtained and studied in detail. Some software packages available on the internet for performing certain analyses were identified and downloaded. These are briefly described below: • • • Profili 1.2 [9]: A software package containing over 18,000 airfoil sections with provision for adding and modifying airfoils for different requirements. VisualFoil 4.0 [10]: A software to duplicate the function of a wind tunnel and generates aerodynamic data. Airfoil Web [11]: Java applet for estimation of the lift and moment coefficients of an airfoil. It also estimates the boundary layer properties and aids in calculating the friction drag of the airfoil. XFOIL [12]: It is an interactive program for the design and analysis of subsonic isolated airfoils. It consists of a collection of menu-driven routines, which perform specific functions. Panknin Twist Formula Template [13]: The fundamental information required to design and build high performance swept wing and tailless sailplane is available on this web site.

Conceptual design proposals of various groups The first group proposed a hand launched flying wing configuration with skids instead of landing gears, citing low weight and excellent glide characteristics as the deciding factor [14]. The payload was to be carried under the fuselage and the proposed release mechanism is shown in Figure 2. The rudder and aileron were coupled to reduce the cost of one servo-controller, and reduced all-up weight.

Figure 2: Top and side view of the flying wing configuration and its release mechanism The group also developed a spreadsheet [Table-1] to evaluate the initial sizing of the model aircraft that they were building. The spreadsheet made an estimate of the longitudinal stability margin of the aircraft that can be compared to the required margin and each configuration can be evaluated. 4

Table 1:Spreadsheet of initial sizing
gms Weights Propulsion Battery Servos (three) Payload Subtotal Airframe Grand Total Landing Weight Takeoff Weight Climb Weight Performance Landing Speed Glide Speed Wing geometry Area AR Taper Sweep (1/4 crd. line) Dihedral Span C_root C_tip Aerodynamic Center MAC- (y) for half wing MAC Neutral Point(x) Stability Margin Desired Stb. Mgn. with Payload Stb. Mgn. w/o Payload 125 100 105 160 490 300 790 ounces 28 4.46 3.57 3.75 5.71 17.50 10.71 28.21 Atmosphere SI Density 1.225 Viscosity 1.85E-05 C/L Takeoff 1 0.8 Landing Glide 0.43 C_D0 0.01 0.43415435 cl @ max l/d C_D = 0.0433 L/D max = 10.03

630 22.50 790 28.21 790 28.21 W/S m/sec f/sec kmph mph Reynld no SI Ozs./ft.sq 0.3048 0.28 0.5 0.30 10 32.81 36.00 20.00 1.36E+05 5.00 16.59 12 39.37 43.20 24.00 1.59E+05 3.87 12.84 Structural weight of wing 1.75 Sq. Ft. ozs./sq.ft. = 6.18 6 Est weight = 10.82 ounces 0.6 303.09 gms 300 last guess 15 deg 0 deg Sr.No C.G. Estimation Position Y Feet Inches Part Weight Position X 3.24 38.91 1 Engine 125 -1 0 0.68 8.11 2 Servo1 35 4 0 0.41 4.86 3 Servo2 35 4 0 feet inches 4 Servo3 35 4 0 0.37 4.42 5 Battery 100 8 0 0.74 8.92 6 Circuitry 0 0 0 310 6 0 0.55 6.62 7 Wing 0.42 5.08 8 Fin1 15 10 0 9 Fin2 15 10 0 7.0 % 10 Skid 12 3 0 6.7 % 11 Ld Gear1 12 2 0 6.6 % 12 Ld Gear2 12 2 0 13 Skid1 12 2 0 14 Skid2 12 2 0 15 Payload 160 4.6 0 890 CG with Payload 4.63 0.00 CG w/o Payload 4.64 0.00 Desired C.G. Location 4.61

S-wing feet sq 1.36 1.75

inch inch

The second group proposed a pencil fuselage design with a podded gondola. The payload was to be housed in the gondola, which was expendable. The use of aileron was discarded and all moving horizontal tail and rudder were proposed as the two control surfaces. The possibility of an expendable landing gear was suggested. The idea was to meet the mission optimally with minimum add-ons. Figure 3 shows the sketch of the proposed design.


Figure 3: Pencil fuselage with podded gondola The remaining two groups came up with conventional designs for the model aircraft. One of the main contributions from these designs was the suggested coupling of the release mechanism with the elevator control to save the cost and weight of one servomotor. The other group suggested a simple pull rod mechanism for payload release as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Simple pull rod mechanism to drop the payload. At the end of these presentations the panel of judges suggested changes in each of the designs. The flying wing concept had to be abandoned because of the lack of experience in building such models. As such, the number of flying wing models built till date are very few. The pencil fuselage was not recommended since it was felt that it could not withstand the weight and the vibrations of the engine. Also the change in the center of gravity caused by dropping of the payload with the gondola could cause the aircraft to go out of control. It was also decided that the models would be hand launched. This removed the task of landing gear design from the process. The four teams were then merged into two, the AIRBUS team and the BOEING team, and were required to come up with modifications in the designs. The aim of this phase was for the students to learn the limitations that come up when moving from design to the manufacture phase. Owing to the insufficient experience and lack of design tools and experience, the general consensus was to go ahead with two separate designs having rather conventional configuration and two servo-controllers for rudder and elevator control. Also since it was a first attempt at building aero-models it was decided to stick to proven configurations, since the thrust of the project was to get flying models and not to develop fancy designs. Figure 5 shows the sketch of one of the conventional designs that was suggested.


Figure 5: Conventional design with a separate servo motor for release mechanism Evolution of the detailed design After the first evaluation, of the conceptual design, the two teams were asked to subject their designs to detailed analysis, leading to the identification of the most critical design requirements. The students carried out an in-depth study of the various plans and drawings of existing and well-proven model aircraft, to get a first hand feel of the design process, and to obtain pointers to the specific design features that would lead to a better design. Next, they selected appropriate aerofoil sections for the wings and horizontal and vertical tails of their aircraft, and attempted to carry out a preliminary estimation of the aerodynamic characteristics and mass breakdown of the aircraft. The sizing and configuration layout of aircraft was then carried out using the established design procedures for model aircraft from [4] & [5]. At each of the above stages, the students had to apply the concepts that they were taught in the aircraft design course that they had taken the previous semester. The AIRBUS team decided to go in for a simple wing having dihedral wing from the root itself, whereas the BOEING team went for a polyhedral wing. The sample design calculations of the AIRBUS group as follows. Initial sizing or weight estimation forms the first step in aircraft design and it involved the following. Engine Weight = 0.15 kg Servos Weight = 0.105 kg (3 x 0.035) Payload Weight = 0.157 kg Battery pack Weight = 0.095 kg Total Fixed Weight = 0.50 kg ~ 0.51 kg From [4], total weight can be approximated as twice the fixed weight and hence Total Aircraft Weight ~ 1.0 kg

The important design parameters for the given mission have the following range of values as given in [4]. Aspect Ratio = 8 to 15. Wing Loading = 20 to 40 N/m2 L/D = 10 to 16. 7

An iterative procedure was followed to obtain the values of the design and other geometric parameters. The iteration starts by assuming initial values of Wing Loading and Aspect Ratio and subsequent determination of lift coefficient (CL). This leads to the selection of airfoil and then to estimation of L/D. One or both of the design parameters are altered until acceptable values of all the design parameters are obtained. The values obtained after the final iteration were: Initial values of Weight Wing Loading Aspect Ratio Density of air Therefore = 1.0 kg = 30 N/m2 = 10 = 1.225 kg/m3

Wing Area (S) = 0.33 m2 Span (b) = 1.8 m Chord = 0.18 m Airspeed Vcr = 14 m/s (assumption based on experience) CL= 2W/(ρVcr2S)= 0.25 Airspeed Vland CL-land = 8 m/s (assumption based on experience) = 1.00

At Cruise

At Landing

The airfoil section was selected based on the above values of CL required by the model. Since the remote controlled models fly at very low speeds there was a need to select airfoils that have high lift characteristics at low Reynolds numbers. The Selig 3021 flat bottom airfoil section was selected by the AIRBUS group from the Profili software database and the download is available at [9]. The BOEING group on the other hand chose the S1223 [15]. The horizontal tail area and vertical tail area were calculated based on the thumb rules given in [4]. Important characteristics of the airfoil for low Reynolds numbers (60,000 to 100,000) typical for R/C models have been studied from [5] Horizontal Tail Area = 20 % of Wing Area = 0.064 m2 Vertical Tail Area = 6 % of Wing Area = 0.02 m2 The location of the Center of Gravity (CG) of the model has a direct influence on the longitudinal stability of the model. The CG location was intended to give adequate stability margin and hence has been placed at 15 % chord from the leading edge of the wing. The relative positioning of the engine and the servos was determined by balancing them about the above said CG position. The payload was positioned such that its CG was near the CG of the entire aircraft. The calculations shown above resulted in a conventional type of aircraft designed by the AIRBUS group. The BOEING group also went through a similar process in designing their aircraft. Figures 6 and 7 provide the details of the wing designed by BOEING group. Figures 8,9 and 10 provide the details of the wing and empennage designed by the AIRBUS group.


Front view of the polyhedral wing

Wire frame View

Rendered View

Figure 6: Wire frame and rendered view of the wing designed by the Boeing group

Figure 7: Front view and top view of the tapered, polyhedral wing designed by the Boeing group


Side View Top View Rudder Deflected by 15 degrees

Figure 8: Empennage of the Airbus group design

Figure 9: Rendered and exploded view of the Airbus group wing

Figure 10: Construction details of the wing designed by the Airbus group Design of the release mechanism The students realized very quickly that a good and reliable release mechanism was essential for successful completion of the mission; hence they decided to spend a considerable amount of their energy and time in its design and testing. Several radical concepts were suggested, including the use of control surface deflection beyond expected values during normal operation of the aircraft to trigger the release sequence. Despite the fact that such a scheme ran the risk of inadvertent release of payload during the flight, the BOEING team decided to go ahead with using the rudder control servo-motor for 10

payload release, since it lead to a narrower fuselage (hence lower drag), and a reduction in the cost and weight of a servo-motor. The AIRBUS team decided not to take this risk, and went for the provision of a separate servo-controller for its release mechanism. Model fabrication, integration and initial trial runs The students maintained a constant liaison with the model-maker during the entire fabrication process, and some changes to the layout and dimensions were made to both the models after several rounds of discussions, on the basis of the model-maker’s previous experience. The students learnt that they had overlooked many fabrication related issues while carrying out their designs; for instance, the skin thickness specified in the wing-tip region of the aircraft by both the teams were far below what was possible to fabricate. Further, the trailing edge had to be fabricated with an insert instead of joining of two thin sheets as was suggested in the drawings. The initial shakedown flights were carried out in a progressive manner, first without the payload, and then with the payload. The flight characteristics and handling of both the aircraft were found to be satisfactory. However, the release mechanisms of both the aircraft showed some problems, which were attended to and solved by the students in situ. Table 2 lists the main differences in the two designs. Table2: Features of the two designs AIRBUS Dihedral wing Rectangular wing Strut type Horizontal and Vertical tail Separate Servo-controller for payload drop BOEING Polyhedral wing Tapered wing Solid plate type Horizontal and Vertical tail Payload drop mechanism coupled with rudder servo-controller.

Final Evaluation of the project On the day of the final testing and evaluation both the aircraft flew very well, and fulfilled the mission requirements. The payload release mechanisms of both the aircraft worked properly in the final evaluation flight. The flight characteristics and handling of the aircraft developed by the AIRBUS Team were found to be much better, and in one flight, it remained airborne for more than 8 minutes after encountered a favorable upwind! However, the aircraft developed by the BOEING Team was declared the winner, as it could complete the mission with lower all-up weight and with only two servomotors (compared to three in the other). After the completion of the mission, the weights of the components of the two aircraft were obtained and are listed in Table 3. Table 3:Weight components of the two designs Component Fuselage Wing Servo controller Power plant system Total Empty weight AIRBUS (kg) 0.195 0.360 0.105 0.300 0.960 BOEING (kg) 0.190 0.240 0.070 0.300 0.800

Lessons learnt from the experiments Students realized the iterative nature of design process and also that it may not be possible to take up unconventional configurations, unless the appropriate design database and analysis tools and prototype are well developed and validated. However, the successful completion of the mission by both the aircraft indicated that when established procedures are followed, the resulting designs are likely to perform and handle well. The design of the payload release mechanism gave the students an insight into the study of mission-critical parameters, and some room for trying out their creative skills and ideas. Students also learnt that even while designing an outwardly 11

conventional aircraft, there is some room for trying out innovative concepts, if certain calculated risks are taken. The successful coupling of the payload release mechanism with the rudder control was one such lesson learnt. Many suggestions for the improvement of the undergraduate study program emerged as part of this course, for instance the inclusion of a chapter on low Reynolds number aerodynamics and the need for a more practical exposure in the Flight Mechanics courses. The students also suggested that this laboratory activity and the aircraft design course that preceded it should be conducted a little earlier in their Undergraduate program. The experience of seeing a product take shape from conception to reality within a time span of four months also provided them with a lot of thrill and satisfaction. Conclusions This experiment provided a first hand exposure to the students to the dual processes in a design exercise, the creative process in which various design concepts are considered, and the analytical process in which the concept with best chance of success is selected and further developed. This experiment developed the vocational skills of the students and instilled in them an awareness of the complex, multidisciplinary and integrated nature of aircraft design. It was established that the best way of imparting design knowledge is for the students to learn design by doing it themselves, in a structured manner. Further, the students were also made to undergo the experience of working synergistically, by placing them in a project group with an individual responsibility, but having to cater for the needs of the group and project as a whole. The need for continuing changes in engineering teaching curriculum has long been felt, emphasizing the inclusion of more intense design education to meet the requirements of industry. It can be concluded that this experiment has been successful from an educational standpoint and would serve as an effective model that could be adopted by other universities. References: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. Lennon Andy, Basics of R/C Model Aircraft Design, Air Age Inc., 1996, ISBN 0-91129540-2. Simons Martin, Model Aircraft Aerodynamics, Nexus Special Interests Ltd., 1999, ISBN 185486-190-5. Phil Owen, Experts Forum- Phil Owen’s way with A/2 gliders, Aeromodeller, January 1986. pp 42-45 Andrew Crisp, Ole Man Mose, Aeromodeller, March 1986. pp 136- 139 Telspark, Aeromodeller, July 1986. pp 405 407 Nickel Karl, Wohlfahrt Michael, Tailless Aircraft in Theory and Practice, translated by Eric M. Brown, Edward Arnold publishers, 1994. Selig, M S and Guglielmo J J, High-Lift Low Reynolds number airfoil design, Journal of Aircraft, 34(1) pp. 72-78, AIAA.


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