Terrafugia picks CATIA for composites work on roadable plane

CATIA will be used to conduct 3-D composite and finite-element modeling for the second iteration of the Transition Roadable Aircraft.

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Dassault Systèmes (Paris, France; Lowell, Mass., USA) announced on Jan. 12 that its CATIA brand has been chosen by Terrafugia (Woburn, Mass., USA), creators of the revolutionary Transition Roadable Aircraft, for 3-D composite and finite-element modeling. Terrafugia will use CATIA Analysis and CATIA Composites Design (CPD) solutions to design and develop its beta prototype, with delivery expected in 2011.

After Terrafugia completed a successful Proof of Concept for the first version of its Transition Roadable Aircraft in early June 2009, the design team began planning the vehicle's second iteration. Having spent several years developing the initial Transition prototype, Terrafugia identified multiple ways in which it wanted to adjust the original design, including experimenting with alternate materials and sizing for the wings. In order to analyze the way different materials would bend or move under various conditions, the company required a solution with advanced 3-D composite ply-modeling, dedicated part-modeling and material behavior simulation capabilities.

Impressed by its success with Dassault Systèmes' SolidWorks 3D design suite, which it began using in March 2009, Terrafugia adopted CATIA Analysis and CATIA CPD as composite-focused complements to its existing SolidWorks infrastructure. According to Ben Zelnick, engineer at Terrafugia, "CATIA is a great complement to our SolidWorks solution. Being able to have a full digital model of a ply-by-ply layout will allow us to conduct accurate structural analyses, which is invaluable in reducing the weight of the Transition. In fact, we recently correlated an analysis of a CATIA model of a portion of the structure closely to a sample tested in our facility."

For the upcoming second prototype, Terrafugia's design team is using CATIA Analysis to create preliminary design simulations rapidly. The solution allows the team to optimize its designs based on product performance specifications and to make updates after real-world testing. Moreover, the company is using CATIA CPD to build and test reinforcement spars on the prototype's structural panels. CATIA CPD gives Terrafugia the ability to verify whether it can feasibly produce what is designed and the ability to perform simulation directly in the same environment.

The Transition Roadable Aircraft can cruise up to 450 miles at more than 115 mph, take off and land at local airports, drive at highway speeds on any road and fit in a normal suburban garage space. The two-seat vehicle has front wheel drive on the road and a propeller for flight, transforming from plane to car in thirty seconds. Both modes are powered by unleaded automobile gasoline. By giving pilots a convenient ground transportation option, the Transition reduces the cost, inconvenience and weather sensitivity of personal aviation.