Bedford Aeronautical Engineering Triumph
A team of aeronautical engineers from ARA have developed a fighter jet design and just finished testing it in ARA’s Transonic Wind Tunnel (TWT) in Bedford. The aircraft model was put through its paces, reaching supersonic speeds and extreme angles using similar techniques to those ARA has used in recent years to test designs for the latest fighter jets including the Typhoon and Lightning which are both currently in service with the RAF.
ARA’s TWT is an engineering marvel, designed and built after WWII to test the first generation of passenger jets. Opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1956, it has been serving the international aerospace industry for 70 years, saving time, money and lives by measuring the performance of new aircraft designs so that aircraft manufacturers can check they are safe and perform well enough to be worth investing in.
Given its age, the wind tunnel has endured incredibly well and ARA is investing in new ways to maintain and upgrade it to ensure it has a long and successful future. As part of these efforts, ARA has developed its own test model which it will use to push the wind tunnel to its limits, enabling the engineering team to spot any emerging problems quickly as well as providing a baseline for measuring improvements, for example to the control systems which are used to operate the wind tunnel.
The ARA team used their understanding of aerodynamics to come up with a concept design which they refined using the latest computer simulation techniques – including some which ARA helped develop for major aircraft companies including Airbus.
Once the shape of the fighter jet model was ready, it was given to ARA’s model design team who split it up into components which could be manufactured and packed full of instrumentation ready for the wind tunnel test.
ARA’s precision manufacturing team machined all the components and then their highly skilled team of fitters assembled the parts, making sure the surface was smooth and aerodynamic. A tried and tested check used by the fitters is to run a thumb along the joins between parts with your eyes shut to check you can’t feel where the joins are.
The model was handed over to ARA’s test operations team who prepared the model, checking all the instrumentation, before conducting the wind tunnel test.
The aeronautical engineering team compared their computer predictions with the experimental results obtained from the wind tunnel test and were delighted with how well the real model had performed and how close their predictions were to the real world performance.
ARA is actively looking for opportunities to make the most of this new capability. A priority for the company is to find ways of working with schools, colleges and universities to help train the next generation of engineers.