• #31 - In The Air

    NASA’s Open Source Aircraft Design Software

    Courtesy of OpenVSP

    OpenVSP is a parametric aircraft geometry tool that allows users to create a 3-D model of an aircraft defined by common engineering parameters. This model can be processed into formats suitable for engineering analysis.

    Beginning in the early 1990s, J.R. Gloudemans and others developed for NASA what we now know as the predecessors to OpenVSP. NASA released OpenVSP as an open source project under the NASA Open Source Agreement (NOSA) version 1.3 on January 10, 2012. Currently leading the development is Rob McDonald, professor of aerospace engineering at Cal Poly − San Luis Obispo.

    J.R. Gloudemans tells ArchiExpo e-Magazine:

    OpenVSP is an aircraft geometry tool used to rapidly evaluate advanced design concepts. The software allows designers to express their design in terms of engineering parameters. The results of design choices are presented in real-time to the designer. I developed the precursor to OpenVSP in the mid-’90s at NASA Ames to help engineers quickly visualize and evaluate aircraft designs.

    An aircraft designer can use OpenVSP to build and visualize a design, check volume and mass properties, compute preliminary aerodynamics, generate meshes for CFD, export the geometry to other software, calculate wave drag or optimize the design using internal or external codes.

    Rob McDonald follows up with ArchiExpo e-Magazine:

    There have been a ton of changes since 2012 all across the board. As for OpenVSP, the first release of the re-write (3.0.0) came in January 2015. Development has continued at a rapid pace since that time.  The re-write has really enabled that rapid development — some changes that would have very difficult to develop on v2 are nearly trivial on v3.

    OpenVSP NASA aircraft design software

    Courtesy of OpenVSP

    Though there are too many changes to describe, the general direction is to enable increased fidelity physics-based analysis earlier in the aircraft conceptual design cycle.  This progress enables innovators to design unconventional systems that go beyond our collective historical experience.

    Designing an aircraft takes many software tools at each step of the process. We typically describe aircraft design in conceptual, preliminary and detail design phases. OpenVSP is one conceptual design tool that hopefully makes it practical to use other sophisticated tools early in design. It allows designers to rapidly create a three-dimensional model of an aircraft concept and prepares that model for further engineering analysis.

    There is a lot of innovation in the aircraft design world today. Unmanned aerial vehicles (Drones), electric aircraft, reduced emissions and noise, and low-boom supersonics are just a few areas making exciting progress.  I’m proud to say that OpenVSP is used by some of the innovators in each of these areas.


    About the Author

    Erin Tallman is a journalist and the Editor in Chief for ArchiExpo e-magazine. She contributes to other online publications and, as an author, has already published her first novel.

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