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ISSUE 49 - January 2009
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Over the past couple of weeks we’ve had a look at how they’re kicking the pilot out of a lot of what is to come. To wrap things up, let’s see what IS in store for the rest of aircraft design in general. Many new design theories are challenging traditional configurations, and they, complimented by new materials and construction techniques, are dictating that the aircraft of the near future will look very much different than your grandfather’s ride.

Oblique Flying Wing

In a word; Computers. They and the software associated with them, have advanced so rapidly that powerful aircraft design programs, which might have cost upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars a decade or so ago, are cropping up on the personal computers of amateur designers and dreamers worldwide.


No longer are years, advanced degrees and thousands of draftsmen required to turn out a new aircraft design. No longer do complex company infrastructures, dozens of designers, refrigerated computer banks and complex wind tunnel installations hum along to the dictates management.


Now, much more often than not, new aircraft are hatched by entrepreneurial visionaries. Utilizing a single PC loaded with an inexpensive design program or two, they are creating these aircraft literally in days rather than years. Thumb through the pages of ‘The Kitplanes Buyers Guide’ (, reflect on their motto, “Dream it, Build it, Fly it” consider the 300 plus kit plane designs available and you’ll understand that it no longer requires the massive aircraft manufacturing facilities of the past to bring an aircraft to life and to market.

On the scale of airliners, cargo planes and military aircraft, this rapid advance of computer technology, provides the industry tools unimaginable a few decades ago. Now it’s possible to make one small change, reiterate the complete design, and investigate the change as it impacts the whole.

“A CG problem? Move the wing and inch? No problem. Does that solve the problem? Yes, and now we can reduce the size of the empennage also.” This is a common scenario in the development of an aircraft design; now accomplished in minutes, rather than weeks, or months.

All aircraft designs are living things. The design is begun and continues to change right up to the day it is declared ‘frozen for production’. The ability to keep the progress of a design, abreast of the imagination of the designer, is the most significant advantage of these new computer programs.

As importantly, these powerful programs allow the designer unfettered latitude in the investigation of new ideas. The designer now has the ability to ‘fly’ a new concept within the design program itself, and to test its feasibility, on the very day of its conception. Reference the incredible ability of Austin Meyer’s computer program ‘X-Plane 9.20’ ( This program will shocked you at how powerful it is, and leave you incredulous with it’s $39 price tag.

Needless to say, aviation is experiencing a boom in new aircraft designs. Tiny nano structured UAV’s fly through towns, up staircases, down hallways, attach themselves to light fixtures and send video and voice half way around the world.

Robert Wood’s 60 mg, 3 cm wingspan micro aerial vehicle

Enormous blended wing, thousand passenger airliners will soon ply the airways and make travel that much more comfortable and affordable. New designs and materials will bring us the space concepts of science fiction.

Blended Wing Body

We mentioned new construction techniques and materials earlier in this muse. Thanks to similar advances in the abilities of computers to analyze the structures of metals and composites, they too are advancing at a rate paralleling that of design. Metal forming and mating techniques are giving us advances like hydro formed components. Mating systems like stir welding are speeding construction times. The fields of chemistry and physics provide us with concepts such as nano tubes; incredible carbon structures exhibiting strength several hundred times that of the highest strength steels. The fertile minds of designers and dreamers alike will find materials and techniques enough to bring their imaginations into reality, advancing our betterment, hopefully.


So we venture into ‘the brave new worlds’ of aviation, into ‘2001’, and into‘2010’, always well behind the minds of our science fiction writers, but always well ahead of our sociology. I for one am fascinated nearly every day with the introduction of new designs, new techniques and new materials, developed primarily on the coattails of computer soft and hardware advances. We are none of us prepared for what we will witness in the next couple of decades.

Future City

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