Wind tunnel tests reveal Tempest’s digital design

BAE Systems released images of digitally-designed 3D printed models of the UK’s next-generation combat air system, Tempest, undergoing wind tunnel testing at its Warton facility in Lancashire on August 24.

By exploiting digital twin technologies, engineers at BAE Systems were able to design, test and fly conceptual shapes for Tempest. These were virtually designed and tested, using high performance computers that calculated the aerodynamic performance the aircraft’s different features. During the process, test pilots flew the aircraft virtually, testing the conceptual designs from a ground-based simulator.

Tempest [BAE Systems]
A scale model of the Tempest in BAE Systems' wind tunnel at its Warton facility in Lancashire. BAE Systems

Paul Wilde, head of the Airframe Technologies for Tempest, said: “The digital twin concept we have developed will be used to design, test and support every single system and structure for Tempest. By taking an entirely digital approach to the challenge the UK government has set us, we’re transforming the way we work and adding incredible value to the programme. We can achieve what traditionally would have taken a number of months in a number of days.

“As a result, we’re working faster for the future and we’re using the virtual environment to create endless opportunities for our engineers to experiment without boundaries and with open minds – key to the future innovation of the programme,” he added.

Tempest [BAE Systems]
Engineers at BAE Systems used digital twin technologies and 3D printing to create the Tempest scale models for use in the physical wind tunnel tests. BAE Systems

Following a period of digital testing, scale models of the concepts were 3D printed and trialled in BAE Systems’ wind tunnel facilities at Warton. During this phase, the aerodynamic properties of the Tempest designs were physically tested in harsh wind conditions, which reached speeds of more than twice the speed of sound.

Michael Christie, director of Future Combat Air Systems at BAE Systems, said: “Designing an aircraft has traditionally been an opportunity which comes up once in someone’s career which causes real challenges of transferring skills and knowledge. The technologies now available to us mean that we can reduce the design cycle which in itself is good for the affordability of a programme, but we can also perform more cycles very quickly until we get it right.”

Tempest [BAE Systems]
These tests will directly inform the final design of the Tempest next-generation fighter. BAE Systems

Data from these digital and wind tunnel trials will now be used to inform, refine and shape the final design of the Tempest next-generation fighter, which is slated to enter operational service by 2035.

“The UK government has set us a significant challenge, but the programme has some of the boldest and brightest minds on board, who are breaking milestones at an accelerated pace and developing technologies and techniques that will be game-changing for the UK defence industry and beyond,” Christie added.