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Computers make engineers, vehicles smarter

Computers make engineers, vehicles smarter

Renshaw is manager of advanced combat aircraft in Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Advanced Development Programs department. He received his degree in aerospace engineering from Georgia Tech in 1978 and has been involved in the design, development, and testing of military aircraft for 23 years. He has worked on the F-16, F-16XL, YF-22, and Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) design teams.

The aerospace industry is known for its big-ticket, high-technology products. But just like designers in most other industries, those in aerospace are under pressure to reduce design cycle time.

Design News: How are aerospace design engineers improving time-to-market?

Renshaw: Almost all new hardware projects are using 3D solid modeling to reduce design cycle time. Tools like CATIA continue to evolve and are developing interfaces with analysis programs to improve the efficiency of handing off data between groups. Computer modeling and simulation is also continuing to improve and in many cases is replacing or reducing hardware testing. Examples of this include high order Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) analysis being used to reduce wind tunnel test time and faster structural analysis tools integrated into the design cycle.

Q: What skills are most valuable for design engineers in aerospace today?

A: Design engineers in today's aerospace business can benefit from having multi-disciplinary skills that help them better understand how their portion of a project fits into the big picture. Computer literacy, both in computer graphics and office/administrative tools, is an absolute "must have." Communications skills and interpersonal skills remain keys to advancing beyond the entry level positions.

Q: What are the major trends in aerospace?

A: We are seeing continued emphasis on more unitized structures to reduce tooling costs and assembly time, along with increased use of commercial standard parts. Air vehicles are also getting "smarter;" low-cost computer processing is finding its way into every facet of new designs, including built-in maintenance and health monitoring functions, active controls and structure, and systems that can call ahead for their own repair and replacement parts.

Q: What do you see as the most dramatic aerospace developments coming up?

A: One area undergoing a revival is the concept of high-speed transportation, including supersonic and hypersonic cruising vehicles. Materials advances offer lower weight and better heat resistance, and modern engines can produce the required thrust levels with acceptable fuel economy. Advances in design and analysis techniques may yield more efficient aerodynamic shapes, and may include airframe structures whose shapes can be changed in flight.

Q: Since the Cold War ended, do you see the aerospace industry not being the technology driving force it used to be?

A: The focus of aerospace technology has changed. The emphasis today is on making our performance-based products more affordable. In many cases, aerospace is benefiting from technologies, such as microprocessors, driven by other industries. Aerospace continues to push the boundaries in structures and manufacturing technologies, since no other industries have the combination of requirements for simultaneous light weight and high strength. Technologies in both composites and lightweight metallic structures continue to be pursued and developed in aerospace and then applied to other industries. Other technologies like GPS navigation were originally developed for military aerospace applications, and have moved into wider use in the commercial and private sectors.

Q: Is the world aerospace industry evolving to where all markets are essentially divided equally by European and U.S. suppliers?

A: Governments on both sides of the Atlantic seek to maintain and grow their capabilities in aerospace work. One aspect of this trend is the emergence of multinational companies and consortiums. More and more air vehicles will have parts and sub-assemblies designed and built around the world. One excellent example is the Joint Strike Fighter representing the next generation of multi-role tactical aircraft. This program has been structured from the beginning to provide opportunities for international partners to compete for work based on their ability to provide the best value to the program.

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