Engineers at BAE Systems are testing several concepts for Tempest, the UK’s next-generation fighter jet which is due to be in service by 2035.
According to BAE Systems, conceptual shapes for the aircraft have been virtually designed and tested and high-performance computers used to calculate the aerodynamic performance of different aircraft features. Test pilots have also used ground based simulators to fly Tempest models.
Once digitally tested, scale models were 3D printed and tested at BAE Systems’ wind tunnel facilities at Warton, Lancashire to physically test the aerodynamic properties of the design under wind speeds of more than twice the speed of sound.
Data from these trials is being used to refine and shape the final design of the aircraft. Paul Wilde, head of airframe technologies for the Tempest project said, “The digital twin concept we have developed will be used to design, test and support every single system and structure for Tempest. By taking an entirely digital approach to the challenge the UK Government has set us, we’re transforming the way we work and adding incredible value to the programme.
“We can achieve what traditionally would have taken a number of months in a number of days. As a result, we’re working faster for the future and we’re using the virtual environment to create endless opportunities for our engineers to experiment without boundaries, and with open minds – key to the future innovation of the programme.”
The research forms part of a wider UK-led effort to define the requirements for a future air combat system. BAE Systems is working with Rolls Royce, Leonardo and MBDA as part of Team Tempest to explore more than sixty technology areas in total, experimenting with different ideas ranging from the physical shape of an aircraft to the sensors that will become the brains of a future system.
The digital twin concept has also been adopted in the development of a “Factory of the Future” at BAE Systems’ Warton facility in Lancashire to demonstrate how the future fighter aircraft could be built. At Warton, data from robots, supply chain databases and machines is being combined in simulations that will deliver increased efficiency and accuracy in the manufacturing process.
Michael Christie, director of future combat air systems at BAE Systems said, “Designing an aircraft has traditionally been an opportunity which comes up once in someone’s career which causes real challenges of transferring skills and knowledge. The technologies now available to us mean that we can reduce the design cycle which in itself is good for the affordability of a programme but we can also perform more cycles very quickly until we get it right.
“The UK Government has set us a significant challenge, but the program has some of the boldest and brightest minds on board, who are breaking milestones at an accelerated pace and developing technologies and techniques that will be game-changing for the UK defence industry and beyond.”
BAE Systems are using data from the trials and research across the program to develop a business case for the UK Government to decide on whether or not to commence the next phase of a combat air acquisition program for the UK.