NASA Now: Model Aircraft
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NASA Now: Model Aircraft

August 29, 2019

[ Sound Effects ] Hey, I’m Kristin and
this is NASA Now. Today, you’re in for a special
treat when we talk with a model, who’s an expert at
making models for NASA. We’ll learn about the different
types of model craft NASA uses and why tolerance is so
important to the design process. That’s ahead, first here’s
what’s happening at NASA Now. [ Sound Effects ] You might not know it,
but even waste is a factor for deep space exploration. NASA, the U.S. Agency for
International Development, the State Department and
Nike announced a challenge. The focus of the
challenge is the theme of the LAUNCH: Beyond
Waste forum. Ten entrants will be presenting
their game-changing innovations that could transform
waste management systems and practices. Waste is a fact of life for
human beings and management of waste is important for planning long-range
human spaceflight missions to an asteroid, Mars, or beyond. The challenge seeks creative
solutions to minimize waste or transform it into new
products in space and on Earth. [ Sound Effects ] Our guest is Samuel James, a Mechanical Engineering
Technician, who’s also a professional
model who works at the NASA’s Langley
Research Center. Samuel’s image has appeared
in many publications. Today, he joins us to explain
the nature of his job at NASA. He is part of a team
of experts who develop and fabricate models used
to test air and space craft. We’ll learn why the
accuracy of measurement and scale are critical to accurately testing
future and current aircraft. [ Music ] The reason why models
are built is because it’s very inexpensive. Take for instance the people
building a new space vehicle or new aircraft, it’s best
to build a smaller model because when you
test this vehicle and it’s not what you’re
looking for, you have to go back to the drawing board and
recreate and redesign. You have a very fast turnaround
time with a model vehicle versus a full size vehicle. So that’s why models are very
feasible and easy to work with. [ Music ] The engineering design process
is the researcher’s side of the process with the
engineering designers. Basically, they get together, collaborate about a particular
design that they’re going to come up with and what they
want this particular vehicle to do. And when they come up with
this design, the material, the drawings are given to us and then the technicians
will review the drawings. Once the model is built,
it’s then taken out and then into the wind tunnels. The thing about these
models, they’re actually flown in different wind tunnels. These scale models are not
flown in the same wind tunnel, it’s built according to what
wind tunnel it’s flown into. [ Music ] When you’re scaling a full-scale
aircraft down to a smaller size, everything must be proportional
when you’re scaling it down. So therefore, you’re talking about dynamically scaled
aircraft or airplane and they have to fly
like the real airplanes. So when they’re put
in these tunnels, you’re creating the
atmosphere or an environment like the full sized
aircraft flying outside. [ Music ] That information is given to us from the researcher
or the engineer. It’s like a computer file
and this file is given to our programmers
in our facility. So our NC operators actually
cut the high-density foam. It could take anywhere
from one or two days for this profile to be cut out. These molds are made up of fiberglass skins
and graphite skins. And once these skins
are created, we then have an inner
structure, a support structure to support these skins. So basically, you
have two halves. Once you put in the internal
parts in both halves, the mold is then bonded together and then we’ll take
the molds apart and then there we have the
model itself put together. And then we have other things,
cosmetic work to do to it and then we actually
paint the model too. According to what wind tunnel
the model is flown into, it consists of materials
such as balsa wood, foam, the bigger models have an
aluminum support structure, and we also have a
material called honeycomb which is manmade material but
it consists of paper and resins and the technical term for
it is called a phenolic. [ Music ] Once the model is finished,
our models are measured, three decimal places,
one thousands of an inch. We have a X, Y, Z coordinate
system on this tracker and we actually have
a ball with a mirror where the mirror can pick up
the laser and you can set it at different points or origins
on this model and that’s where you start making
your measurements from. If the model is built
inaccurately, the data that they will
receive when they test it in the wind tunnel
will be obsolete. Can’t really use it. [ Sound Effects ] Now that you’ve seen how
models are created for NASA, here’s a chance for you to
build your own model aircraft. Teachers, you and your students
can build a test aircraft right in your classroom
using everyday items. Look for the Beginner’s
Guide to Aeronautics: Designing an Aircraft
Model Activity. You’ll find it on the
NASA Explorer Schools’ Virtual Campus. Well that’s it for NASA Now, be sure to visit our Facebook
page and leave a comment. We’ll see you next
time on NASA Now. [ Sound Effects ] NASA Now comes to you
from the Virtual Campus at NASA Explorer Schools.

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