Sketch - Virtual product
Vir­tu­al prod­uct
Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Virtual product



High-performance computers can be used to comprehensively represent aircraft mathematically and numerically, thus accelerating the pace of innovation and reducing costs.


Faster, better and more cost-effective aircraft designs using virtualisation

At present, the development, testing and production of new aircraft designs is associated with such considerable timing and financial risks that a mere setback could threaten the existence of entire companies. These high risks and long design cycles can severely slow down dynamic product improvements and the rapid introduction of advanced technologies. Therefore, resources are needed to accelerate the introduction of new aeronautical technologies and to better manage technological risks. Systematic virtualisation is the key to addressing these issues. DLR is a pioneer in this field.


Virtual development – with clear specifications

DLR positions the virtual product at the heart of its research work. In general, this means the highly accurate mathematical and numerical representation of a new aircraft design with all of its characteristics, such as its aerodynamic flow behaviour or its aeroelastic integrity. Achieving a realistic picture requires establishing a consistent description of the aircraft across all disciplines. Its geometry, structure and, later, mission objectives have to be clearly defined in advance. All phases of product realisation – from design to performance and predicting characteristics all the way to construction and manufacture – have to be properly simulated before they can be realised in full or in part. Even the analysis of the expected product lifecycle has to be done virtually.

From the first idea to the last detail

The final virtual product has to be created using highly accurate and cost-effective calculation methods. However, different levels of modelling are required in the upstream design process, which can be used to quickly explore sufficiently wide parameter spaces. This results in simple, fast models that can be further developed using suitable methods in order to steer the design in the desired direction at an early stage.

In contrast, the high-precision methods used to represent the final product have to be verified and validated in a targeted manner. This ensures that the virtual aircraft realistically reflects the actual characteristics of its non-existent real counterpart. The individual modelling approaches are thus structured hierarchically, with the quality of the representation increasing from level to level – from a purely statistical description to a detailed replica that includes all of the system properties.

Virtual testing through to certification

The integration of numerically generated data into the certification process for new aircraft designs is another important aspect of virtual products. A carefully defined validation strategy has to be developed for what is referred to as virtual testing, so that the verification requirements of the certification process can be represented and satisfied. Due to their complexity and unusual physical flight characteristics, rotary wing aircraft in particular present researchers and developers with special challenges. Care must be taken in such cases because the flight characteristics, aerodynamic interactions and dynamic behaviour cannot always be fully predicted.

High-performance computing and teamwork

Developing new aircraft exclusively using computers requires efficient simulation methods and evaluation procedures for very large amounts of data. The corresponding flight simulators and necessary infrastructure for high-performance computing need to be put in place. Collaborative, decentralised working is essential, so setting up suitable workplace equipment for that purpose is crucial.

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