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Team Vixen: Designing a UAV with SimScale

As students, we are often given assignments or projects which imply the usage of Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) software. However, the training that we receive is limited. We often find ourselves stuck, imitating the steps of a tutorial, wondering why our results don’t add up. This is where companies like SimScale come in and help by offering accessible, web-based CAE software and free training materials for students, hobbyists, and professionals alike.

Design, Build, Fly

As part of my Aerospace Engineering studies at the University of Sheffield, I worked on a year-long team project to design, build, and fly a fully autonomous, high endurance, surveillance drone  (UAV). Team Vixen, as we were called, consisted of 6 members. Each of us worked on a different subsystem including aerodynamics, propulsion, electrical power, materials, structure, ground communication, control, autopilot, sensors, and actuators. As the aerodynamics team lead, my job was to design the aerodynamic surfaces and investigate the aerodynamic forces. Basically, I had to make sure that the UAV would fly and be controlled from an aerodynamic point of view.

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Figure 1: Team Vixen (Left to Right: Niloufar Sheykhi, Andrei Roibu, Joshua Hill, Chi Wong, Eleftherios Koutsilianos, and Jessica Chui)

I was initially introduced to SimScale by a friend, Razvan Apetrei, who is doing his PhD in aerodynamics. He told me about an online platform providing users 3000 core hours and unlimited storage for performing CFD, FEA, and Thermal Analyses. I was skeptical at first, thinking it would have a limited range of application or decreased accuracy of the results, compared to the full commercial versions. But I quickly learned that I had full access to all of SimScale’s features and functionality as a student.

Discovering SimScale

What I really liked about SimScale at first glance was the user-friendly interface, which does not require any coding or user-defined inputs, and which follows a logical path, guiding the user in setting up a simulation. I also liked the fact that numerous simulations could be run simultaneously. This was exactly what I needed at that time to finalize the design of our UAV’s wing.

However, when it came to setting up my first simulation, I found it a bit difficult due to limited experience with Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) at that point – there were simply so many parameters to set up. Undeterred, I started playing around with the platform. After a short while, I discovered the SimScale Academy, which offers access to a large variety of free and paid courses, for beginners all the way up to advanced users. Among the free courses was the SimScale CFD Master Class, formed out of video lectures, step-by-step exercises, and quizzes. Although requiring some background knowledge of CFD and fluid dynamics, the course is tailored for students and hobbyists, as well as professional engineers. It allowed me to gain an in-depth knowledge of the platform and the utilized solvers while also expanding on my previous knowledge in the field.

The Results

Over the course of two months, I set up and ran over 55 CFD simulations, which were critical in finalizing the design of our UAV’s wing. All the way, it surprised me how easy the platform was to work with while allowing for accurate and relevant results to be obtained.

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Figure 2: SimScale Results (left) – Completed Wing by Team Vixen(right)

When the flight-test day came, despite a mistake with the location of the center of gravity of the aircraft which made it neutrally stable, the British Model Flying Association judged our UAV design as being one of the best. All our hard work had paid off that day. I can say that we wouldn’t have been able to obtain the good results and praises that we did without the help of SimScale. If you haven’t already, I would recommend that you have a look around and consider it for your next project, especially if you are a student, because the amount of support that you receive and the knowledge that you take away is far greater than anything else that is out there at the moment.

Team Vixen is a SimScale Sponsored Team. To learn more about becoming a SimScale Sponsored Team, please visit our Academic Program page.


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