Case Study

Designing a Fighter Jet

How we used our aerodynamics expertise, computational simulation capability, precision manufacture facility and our transonic wind tunnel to develop and test a design for a modern fighter aircraft.

ARA’s Fighter Jet Design Created to Test the Limits of our Transonic Wind Tunnel

An in-house team of our aeronautical engineers have developed a design for a modern fighter aircraft which has been tested successfully in ARA’s Transonic Wind Tunnel (TWT). 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 is investing in new ways to maintain and upgrade its TWT to ensure it has a long and successful future. As part of these efforts, ARA has developed its own “high speed reference model” which it will use to push the wind tunnel to its limits on a regular basis, enabling the engineering team to spot any emerging problems quickly as well as providing a baseline for measuring the effect of any engineering improvements, for example to the control systems which are used to operate the wind tunnel.

This project required skills drawn from across ARA ranging from theoretical aerodynamics to hand finishing of precision metal components. Here are some project highlights:

The aeronautical engineering team used their understanding of aerodynamics to create a concept design which they refined using the latest computer simulation techniques – including some which ARA helped develop for major aircraft companies including Airbus. The team went through several design iterations in order to ensure the wind tunnel would perform well at the TWT’s maximum speed of Mach 1.4 (1.4x the speed of sound).

Once the shape of the fighter jet model was ready, it was given to our model design team who turned that shape into a practical wind tunnel model. Provision was made for sensors and instrumentation which would enable the forces, moments and pressures to be recorded during the wind tunnel test. The design is also modular so that individual elements can be upgraded or swapped out at minimal cost.

A critical part of the design process was ensuring the components and assembly would have the strength to withstand the large, dynamic loads the model would be subjected to at the highest speeds and most extreme angles; this was achieved with a combination of finite element analysis (FEA), hand calculations, and experience.

ARA’s precision manufacturing team machined all the components and then our highly skilled team of fitters assembled the parts, making sure the model surface was smooth and aerodynamic. A tried and tested check used by our fitters is to run a thumb along the joins between parts to check they can’t feel where the joins are.

The model was handed over by the manufacturing team to our 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.

This project has drawn together a multidisciplinary team from across ARA including aerodynamicists, model designers, our advanced manufacturing team and our test engineers and will provide a combined digital and physical engineering model which can be used for collaborative research with third parties as well as to validate and potentially enhance the performance of our Transonic Wind Tunnel.