Where are ‘supermodels’ born?
This article isn’t about ladies, as you may have thought, but model aircraft! Particularly those which can confidently be called ‘supermodels.’ Read this article to find out why we call them this and who in TsAGI creates them.
Each newly designed aircraft must pass spin tests and be checked for other dangerous flight modes. Due to the high risk of failure, creation of such conditions during a flight experiment is a challenging task. This is exactly why scientists at TsAGI use dynamically scaled models (DSMs) in their research. They are designed for high quality replication of weight distribution and inertia moments against all axes similar to a full-sized aircraft. The ‘supermodels’ are outfitted with a highly developed control system enabling flights according to a specified program or controlled by an operator. In TsAGI’s T-105 vertical wind tunnel, such objects are used for researching free tailspin flight and flight at angle-of-attack limits. Together with three of our young professionals, we took a tour to the ‘supermodel workshop.’
Both a hobby and an occupation
Yuri Yevdokimov, Alexander Usov, and Ivan Trifonov are directly associated with, as they jokingly call it, ‘the modelling business’ of the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute n.a. N. E. Zhukovsky. Each of them has a job that drives their passion.
Yuri has been doing model aircraft construction since the first year of his studies at Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI) and has become quite proficient at this sport. Yuri came to TsAGI in 2006. In his own words, this happened due to the ‘six degrees of separation’ theory. It all started when a scientist at TsAGI, who needed a specialist capable of designing objects for vertical wind tunnel testing, approached his Moscow colleague at MAI, asking him to find such a person among the alumni. “My candidature fit,” Yuri recalls. “Since there is a constant demand for model aircraft builders in DSM engineering. When you continuously practice this sport, you become experienced in matters no higher education will ever teach you. This is how a hobby brought me to TsAGI.” By 2008, this young gentleman became the head of the DSM Sector in the Institute’s Engineering Department. Two years passed, and Yuri Yevdokimov headed the new Department 4 for Dynamically Scaled Models and Equipment Maintenance responsible for the full cycle of development of such objects: from their design to manufacture.
Alexander Usov had been lucky enough to have famous pilots as his neighbors. Knowing them closely has made a strong impression on his world view. “I’m in love with aviation,” confesses Alexander. “I’m still thrilled each time I hear the aircraft engines roar and marvel at the sight of a ‘steel bird.’ Since my childhood years, I knew I wanted to do aircraft modelling. I remember how my father and I constructed a small model aircraft — it looked just like a real one, only in miniature. I was overjoyed at the result! This is how my bench modelling ‘career’ began.” This hobby does not only require delicate assembly and painting of the model, but also teaches technical features of a prototype under construction, and focuses attention on engineering solutions of various aviation eras. Thank to his hobby, Alexander developed artistic skills necessary for creating precise copies of aircraft. “I presented my works to friends, relatives, colleagues, and mentors,” says the young man. “But I always wanted to store them in my memory, so I started taking pictures.” From photographing models, Alexander turned his attention to real aircraft. He can often be seen at aviation events, and his photographs are regularly published by local mass media. His choice of an alma mater, as well as hobbies, were driven by his love for aviation: Alexander has graduated from MAI with a specialist degree in Aircraft and Helicopter Engineering. This is how childhood dreams and hobbies that still accompany him today have been put into practice in his profession of a design engineer. And the good sense of 3D space developed, thanks to bench modelling, drawing, and photography serves him well in his main occupation. Today, Alexander Usov is the head of the Engineering DSM from Composite Materials sector. “Our work is a continuos sequence of exciting technical tasks, and the creativity necessary to resolve them brings true satisfaction into it!” he says enthusiastically.
Ivan Trifonov works in the same sector. During his spare time he is an avid hang glider, a carryover from his student years. He also graduated from MAI. “My choice of profession and hobbies was driven by the overall vibe present in Zhukovsky. People involved in the aviation society, streets named after pilots and scientists, aircraft flying by: all of this immersed me into this environment from an early age. I never had a single doubt of what I wanted to do,” explains Ivan. When maneuvering a hang glider, one feels the air flow; the way it changes and affects the flight device. These sensations help Ivan to better predict the behavior of his design during the engineering phase.
By the way, both Alexander and Ivan (never mind their young age) are sort of ‘gurus’ for future engineers and designers, both of them teaching automation in design work.
Versatile and modern
Yuri, Alexander, and Ivan are proud of the department they work in. It has a young, energetic, driven, and dynamic team capable of bold ideas and fresh thoughts. Paperless technology used in engineering and construction allow for achieving substantial time economy in model production. Data is digitally transfered via a computer network to a CNC machine used for production of forming tooling. Composite parts that will later be used in creation of ‘supermodels’ require high-level qualifications of staff members. “Many of the work issues are resolved in field, thus bringing immediate corrections into the design,” elaborates Yuri Yevdokimov.
Designers and DSM engineers approach their work with great care. Their ability to easily fix any model on their own bespeaks their high professional skills. “For instance, we have a superb technologist and a superb CNC machine operator, Maxim Druzhinin. He singlehandedly develops processing software, or modifies a part design, should he see this necessary,” says Alexander. “Everyone trusts him. Maxim is the ‘oldest’ and the most experienced member of our staff, notwithstanding being only 28 years old.” Ivan continues: “We often ourselves take on simple production tasks, such as gluing, forming, and assembly of parts.” The department head adds with a smile: “And I’m the one responsible for all of this.”
By the way, as Yuri sees it, all designers on his team can be distinguished for their rapid professional growth. They hone their skills faster than usually happens in a traditional production environment. A specialist sees the whole model creation process, and can find and remedy an error at any phase of work. "This is how they hone not only their professional skills, but also the quality of our products,"explains Alexander Usov.
TsAGI’s dynamically scaled models are also popular outside the Institute walls. Back in the day, there were in-house model shops, but eventually they got curtailed. “Most of the orders we get today, including those coming from abroad, we do by ourselves,” says Yuri Yevdokimov. “And these are not only comprised of DSMs for spin testing, but also of combined metal and composite structures for weight aerodynamic tests, and models of helicopter propeller blades. These are not just mere copies featuring complete shape resemblance to their real-life prototypes. In a way, the department staff brings life into them by outfitting them with state-of-the-art equipment engineered in Research Department 5 that allows to remotely control the model during the experiments while immediately obtaining all the required data. All communications between the test object and the research team is done via a Bluetooth wireless personal network. A new type of model mounted to a three-degree-of-freedom pivot can be provided as an example of this innovative approach. Remote control of such models enables virtual piloting in a wind tunnel.
In the very near future, the department team plans to manufacture complex large scaled part elements, which will be up to six meters in length, from composite materials. For instance, a T-104 wind tunnel fan blade manufacturing task is already on its way to resolution. In order to enable manufacturing large scaled composite units, TsAGI has procured special equipment.
“Of course, if not for the support of the research and manufacturing company, we would never have achieved such great results,” explains Yuri Yevdokimov. “The team works much quicker and more effective, when everybody knows they are valued and important.”
TsAGI’s ‘supermodel workshop’ comprises professional attitude and in-dept knowledge of technical details and technology, a friendly atmosphere, mutual understanding, and a passion for resolving various tasks. This is precisely where on a daily basis, the models of our young team of professional engineers become crucial for the development of a new generation of Russian aircraft.