UMR student tests low-cost software for small-plane simulation

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On June 24, 2004

University of Missouri-Rolla student Peter Cross is investigating applications of normal aircraft simulation software for use with non-commercial aircraft to see how accurately he can simulate flights on a much smaller scale than normal.

Using X-Plane, a flight-simulation software program, and computer models of planes already in production, Cross records the models’ performance in the program, then compares the flight data to results obtained from the actual planes built from those models. He hopes that by analyzing the differences in simulation, as well as how the planes actually fly, future researchers and designers will be able to easily determine if their designs will fly.

Once the research is complete, UMR students and faculty can test smaller aircraft models at a reduced cost and a quicker pace than in the past. Weaknesses in plane designs could be detected long before planes are actually built.

The largest problem Cross has seen is in the original programs used for simulation of a plane’s flight.

"Most programs are good at simulating larger aircraft, but when you start doing small aircraft, it becomes more difficult for the program to cope," Cross says.

A standard simulation program, he explains, applies a large number of tested equations to approximate how a plane will fly. As you decrease the size of the model, however, the program will begin to give less accurate data.

So far, X-Plane has shown promise to Cross, who is working through UMR’s Opportunities for Undergraduate Research Experience program under the direction of Dr. Fathi Finaish, professor and associate chair of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UMR.

Cross says it seems to be the most compatible with the smaller aircraft designs and is relatively cheap in comparison to the massively expensive programs that aircraft design manufacturing companies often encounter.

This article was written by Johnathan Smith of Las Vegas, a sophomore in computer science, and Brett Whaling of Rolla, Mo., a junior in computer science, as part of a technical writing class in the UMR English department.

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On June 24, 2004. Posted in Research