Aesthetically "massaging" a general aviation aircraft -Help!

Hello everyone…I hope this is the right section - if not, please send me elsewhere. I’m involved with a project that involves designing a two place side by side, tractor, low wing general aviation aircraft, and making it look pretty - but for the life of me I just can’t get anything decent. The problem I keep running into is that since the engine is up front and is quite wide, I have this massive bulk that I have to integrate into a relatively narrow fuselage. It also means that I have a body that goes from very narrow to fat to sort of fat.
EDIT: Another major problem/consideration is ground clearance. The propeller and engine have to be relatively high up to keep the prop from hitting the ground (since it’s a tricycle undercarriage - two wheels in the back and one in the front).

My design vocabulary basically dictates that to solve this, I need to create a highly vertical shape - unfortunately, I can’t do that because the engine is horizontally opposed and thus very wide in the horizontal plane; if I make a vertical front end, then the cylinders poke out the sides and there is a lot of wasted area (read: not aerodynamic).

We’re trying to get a very angular, angry look from this - both myself and the person I’m working with want to create something new and avoid the overly boxy look of one half of the GA fleet, and avoid the overly blended swishy look of the other half.

What we’re going up against/general configuration of this type:

What we want to avoid;



General layout;

What I’ve made so far (rough, rough 3D sketches) and am unhappy with;





So…could anyone maybe give some advice here? My design vocabulary just really does not gel well with the way this aircraft has to be laid out (truth be told, I think 99% of GA aircraft of this configuration are ugly or boring as sin). I would love to get some tips from professionals. Thank you!

Interesting project. Looks like fun.

Deposit a $5,000 retainer into my PayPal account and we’ll get started on your project. :sunglasses:

You may want to consider numbering your renders so they can be discussed.

I’m not asking anyone to produce any sketches or anything, just some tips on what I could do. Or is this not the right section for that? Or is that just not allowed in general…?

Adding numbers though.

I think this is an interesting project and could warrant a new type of airplane design language! As you said the existing ones are pretty ugly. Use the interesting way the components are laid out (engine big up front, etc) to create a new language for this type of aircraft!

One method that I thnk will be really helpful to you is silhouetting. Take inspiration from how concept artists find interesting shapes and their design process. Do thumbnail silhouettes of the side view, top view, then pick a few that you like and draft those up in 3d.

Thanks tarngerine, I’ll give that a shot. I’ve got a trans-Atlantic flight tomorrow, so I’ll have the time to experiment. :slight_smile:

A few things you could do:

Build a mood board or form work you want this to be in the zone of.
Build a formal matrix of competitive product at different price points that breaks down features and details.
Build a customer profile and fill out a world that this might fit into.
Sketch solutions out before going to 3d, overlay the basic mechanical package you’ve laid out.
Hire a designer to critique the work formally and make design suggestions and quick studies.

Hm, where did the other gent’s post go? I was going to reply…nevertheless, thank you yo. I’ll start working a few of those avenues. I guess one of my big problems is that I’m still pretty inexperienced, and I have trouble coming up with purely aesthetic detailing like you see on cars - everything I add seems over complicated or forced. Hopefully the techniques you all are kind enough to offer will help me get around this.

I’d like to clarify, this is a half personal project, it’s not strictly a client/designer relationship, which is why I’m posting it here to get help. If it was a more professional project I would obviously keep it more under wraps and seek advice from different avenues (preferably private ones). However, you folks have been extremely helpful, which is why I’m happy I posted it.

Not sure if he deleted the previous post or not, but I think just building out a range of aesthetic inspirations might really help loosen your form exploration up. If you have a wall in your workspace, it really helps to get a 4x8 sheet of foamcore and just tack tons of print outs and start to arrange them in groups. Analyze what draws you eye where, and look for inspiration from all different sectors, sculpture, architecture, vehicles… the eye has to be trained for these kinds of things.

  • Sorry, I felt like the post was a little much so I yanked it… here’s what I wrote. Hope it helps*

I’ve worked on similar projects in the past, and have friends working on others that I hear about all the time

First off, this seems like an awful lot of freedom without input from the engineering/aerodynamics people, which could play a major role in a plane. Is this a very conceptual project?

That aside, you have a good start thinking about the 3-d forms, and knowing what your client. I think you should try to think about the subtleties of what they DO want… it will help guide your design work. For example, are there any planes out there that fit the client’s (and their target customer’s tastes)? Talk to them, feel it out, think about planes do they aspire to make. Pin those up and think about what makes them special. Also think about what you (as a designer) would give their ideas to push the envelope - it’s your job to give them what they don’t realize they want

Another aspect is if there’s an established brand happening already with the company - how could it influence the design? This could be a design form language; shapes and details from their other planes. It could also be more experiential - is the company about freedom? about transit? about adventure? About: bling, budget, speed, ease of use, safety, etc… 3 or 4 key words like that can be realized in shapes. It give you a spread of concept themes and some direction.

sketching is a fast way to get ideas down, or since you have the rough cadd, you could sketch over the cad printed very light colored. Sometime you can sketch in top/side/front views, especially with vehicles, to get all big ideas down coherently and make CAD less exploratory. If you can do perspective sketches, they’ll wow your client for sure!

Also think about the key forms you can effect… the scoops, fuselage, and cockpit stand out. I worked on an aerodynamic styling project once with massive exterior radiators that needed scoops & exhausts. The engineers worked with me to position them in an ideal location that would allow a more graceful form. You might have some flexibility there

If you want to really show them you should be a part of the team through the whole development, you also might want to think about where in relation to the fuselage the crew body’s sit, where the controls are, instrumentation, seats, and line of sight. I’ve designed vehicle cockpits (including tanks!) in the past and believe it or not, many are built around the crew compartment and line of sight of the driver as to be as functional as possible. I think car designers do this intuitively, but the rest of us might need to double check it. You don’t need to super rigid, but must make sure the pilot can see the runway in front of the plane by the position of a typical sized pilot (especially the eyes/head). Some aerospace architects even do body envelope studys to plan for the proper sized crew-space, seats, controls, etc. This would all be after you have some good ideas fleshed out

Hope this helped, and good luck - it’s a juicy project!

Thanks for the help folks…Travisimo, you were right on the scoops, they add a lot. I don’t think I’ll have that much freedom with them, but I’ll see if I can maybe find some use for them. :slight_smile: While I was on the plane I came upon this idea that the reason this was so difficult for me is that aircraft basically only have outlines; i.e. there’s nothing in the body like a wheel well or a B pillar, like in a car, so the only way I was attempting to solve the problem was to manipulate the outline quite heavily (which I can’t do in something as shape sensitive as this). So what I ended up doing was creating my own focus points (thanks tarngerine!); emphasizing the bottom of the canopy and extending it forward to create an artificial shoulder line, and extending the top of the wing and leading edge of the tail surfaces to create rear interest lines.
One nice thing is that while I am working on this with someone else, I don’t have to follow what they want exactly…however, he is really into the square, boxy look that I was trying to avoid - even after sending a few sketches, those were the ones he picked out. So instead of trying to fight that, I started rolling with it on this next example.

I have a question though; in school they teach us to hammer out as many sketches as possible…is that an absolute must? I’m finding that I can produce only maybe five or six sketches and really like the shapes that are coming out (i.e., wanting to expand on what is already there as opposed to 20 different aircraft, then redrawing each of those 20 times, etc - starting with 6, choosing two or three, then moving those along through successive sketches).

Anyway, as a thank you for reading through that wall of text, here’s a more “blockified” version of the aircraft;

The pencil sketch (this one was a refined version of the top sketch);

EDIT: Just as a word on draginess, by the way; we’re really not going for high efficiency or high speed with this (the category is limited to 120 MPH as well), so yes, I know this is quite comparatively draggy, however we’d prefer to have that than the typical tadpole fuselage.

This may help, have a look at animals that have the features you are looking for. They may provide inspiration for your concept. Generally as well, the sketch a lot theory is more of a shot gun approach for ideas. You then refine into smaller more detailed concepts.

Aesthetically speaking, the front end (in the last render shown) is quite ugly, to be blunt. None of the shapes compliment each other, some are curved, two boxes on the bottom, the propeller is set into a surface that is cut away, with 3 rectangle gashes taken out on each side. Are their functions for these elements, or purely aesthetic add-ons? These shapes seem to be placed on like existing Lego pieces, and cut away with a hack saw. Blend the elements together, create a harmony between the currently combating forms.

I know this isn’t the review you were hoping for, but it will help you in the long run. I’d say start over from scratch, with a fresh mind and fresh inspiration (other airplanes and other areas of design/nature/architecture as mentioned).

Best of luck. Send us some more photo updates.

PS- for a project such as this… every designer’s process is different… generally speaking the best results will come from many many many sketches. my guess, to get where you want to be at… 100-150 different sketches, distill that down to 20 or so, create 3 solid design language directions, refine the best one and then create your first 3D model/rendering. these numbers are very rough. if you’re great, you could find something in 50 sketches or less. but if you’ve never designed an airplane before, it could be as high as 500 initial sketches!

plus the more sketches you do, the more confident your lines will be when you draw the shape. You’ll be able to draw the forms faster than CADing it up

Taylor; thanks. Not every critique needs to be positive. I’ll work on it more, thank you. :slight_smile:

Travisimo; it’s actually done in a polygonal modeler, not CAD (computer geek, there’s a big difference), but I see where you’re going. :slight_smile:

Yeah, I spent a lot of time last year working on a wind turbine, that’s the one with the scoops that we moved for aesthetics… it was a very different shape than what I’ve normally drawn, and was tough at first. After an enormous amount of sketching, it was very easy to draw the aerodynamic shapes in perspective and create different concepts quickly. In the end, it would have taken way more time to do the concepts in CAD, and I was able to explore a lot more ideas

I’m curious UKT… since you seem to be open to any and all “forms”, including a twin-vertstab version, why are you limiting the design to a tractor configuration? With that air-cooled powerplant up in front you’re pretty much stuck with big holes in the nose … and there’s not much that hasn’t been done with that.

What power plant are you considering?

Food for thought?

Saab J21, 1945 (later successfully converted to jet engine)

Dornier Do 335 Pfeil, 1944

Focke Wulf FW 281

Kyushu Shinden J7W1, 1943 (never saw service)

Cessna SkyMaster, 1961

Schweizer RU-38 A-1 Twin Condor, 1995 (obviously an all-business recon aircraft, but of low-wind configuration)

Cobalt Co50, 2010, Cobalt Aircraft Industries

Bugatti 100, 1937 (Louis D. de Monge, aerodynamist for Ettore Bugatti)
not air cooled, not a pusher, but certainly a candidate for Most Beautiful Aircraft Ever Built (including the Spitfire) IMO

Lmo; for the performance requirements of the aircraft, it unfortunately has to be a tractor (I don’t think a specific type has been chosen, but it definitely is a horizontally opposed type), and for the requirements of the engine, it has to be horizontally opposed (well, not really, but only horiz opposed fulfill the requirements for 4 stroke, readily accessible, dependable suppliers). We had already talked about a pusher configuration, but unfortunately they’re less than ideal for what we want.

Pretty much the problem with this project (and by extension the hobby I’ve been working on for the past several years) is that everything is pretty “fixed” on this; it has to be a big square engine up front, it has to be straight winged, it has to have a cruciform tail, it has to be side by side seating for two, it has to be a tractor configuration, it has to have all of it’s costs be as low as possible.

The reason for this is just because of the way the aircraft class is laid out; it’s small production run so pretty much everything has to be off the shelf and as simple to build as possible (read: stock engines and generally slab sides, straight wings, etc). The design goals are for something racey looking, small, fills all of those above goals, which seem to not work…but all are pretty equally important.

All of these things combined end up with me hitting the same walls over and over again. I know enough about aircraft design to avoid “bad” configurations to an extent (minus bits like landing gear position and proper propeller diameter), which limits what I can do for most everything - all of the aircraft you show look awesome but they also all break one or more of the design constraints I’m forced to follow, so I’m just out of ideas. That’s why I posted here, hoping to get some new thoughts on the issue. But like you said, there’s not much that hasn’t been done with that. :frowning: I do hesitate to complain though, because I know there are people who are much more talented than I who could solve this problem easily.

Also, it looks like we’ll be going to high wing now, which opens up some possibilities just in a different way of thinking, but all the problems still stand. From my initial sketches, it does look like it may be easier.

Plus I guess it says something about my aesthetics when approaching the project that I much prefer the Me-109G-2 to the Bugatti, which I think looks rather poor and “mushy”. :wink:

Amazing planes there Lew!

That Bugatti is increidible!

Awesomely inspiring image of the Bugatti-100. You got me cranking just looking at that piece of aircraft!
So, I dug deeper and found; with a high-speed camera on low-flying acrobatic aircraft maneuvering with extreme aileron rolls!!! The cinematography is heart-stopping, as is the flying. These people love performance aircraft, which is where your heart needs to be if you’re to design one!

Thanks again, Lew, you’re awesome!
On another tack, has anyone seen the imagery of the C-Class solid-wing cats at the Little America’s cup in Newport?
Another source of inspiration, . . .
Look wide, look deep-