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Case Study

Fast development for a rugged plane

Quest Aircraft

An easy-to-learn simulation solution from Siemens PLM Software helped a startup company get FAA certification and move from concept to production

A plane for the world’s rough spots

Quest Aircraft Company has designed a new 10-place single engine utility turboprop airplane known as the Kodiak. This is a plane that’s specifically designed to go places other planes can’t. A creative wing design allows the Kodiak to take off from short runways. (It can take off in less than 700 feet at full gross takeoff weight of 6750 pounds and climb at more than 1,700 feet per minute.) And its rugged aluminum construction and robust landing gear easily handle unimproved airstrips. This plane has generated interest among the backcountry recreation enthusiasts, although the company’s founders originally had a different application in mind. They envisioned a modern backcountry aircraft designed to meet the extraordinary demands of humanitarian aviation, such as missionary work and relief operations.

Quest was officially launched in 2001 and the development of the Kodiak has been done with private funding. The plane’s first flight took place on October 16, 2004. It received FAA certification in May 2007 and customer deliveries are expected before the end of the year. Quest’s more than 130 employees have worked as quickly as possible to get the plane into production so that the funding source can shift from donations to sales revenues. Simulation software from Siemens PLM Software has been instrumental in the company’s ability to do this.

Pre-test simulation saves time and money

Quest uses the Femap™ with NX™ Nastran® finite element analysis (FEA) solution to simulate the performance of airplane components in software prior to, and in many cases, instead of physical testing. Originally the company contracted out much of the analysis work but eventually it became clear that it would be advantageous, for this project as well as future ones, to do the work in-house. One of the reasons for choosing Femap with NX Nastran was its ease of use, which would facilitate this transition.

“I think the best feature of Femap with NX Nastran is that it was really easy to get started using it,” says Brenton Ellis, a design engineer at Quest. Along with the software, the reseller (Predictive Engineering Inc.), supplied Quest with a tutorial pack. “The tutorial made it easy to learn how to access the features I needed,” he adds. “Between that and the demos that came with the software, I basically learned on my own.”

The other reason for the selection of Femap with NX Nastran is the fact it has all the functionality Quest needs for airplane design. “We’re dealing with some fairly complex geometry,” Ellis explains. “Femap allows us to see how a part interacts with everything around it, for example, by letting us represent surrounding geometry as a surface mesh and combine that with a solid mesh of the individual part. Features such as this let us have the detail we need, and let us analyze things in a way that provides the most useful information.”

Part validation – faster by a factor of 4

Quest used computer simulation as an adjunct to physical testing for some parts, and to replace physical testing for others. As Ellis explains, “For some parts, we used the analysis before we went into testing to help us know if there were any hot spots we needed to be watching out for. By knowing where those were in advance, we could reinforce the part before we destroyed it. For other parts, analysis was sufficient on its own, which saved us the time and the cost of testing.”

As an example of using simulation instead of physical testing, Ellis used FEA to evaluate the design of 25 different brackets used in the autopilot system. For all but one bracket, he was able to substantiate the design without further physical testing. Working alone, Ellis was able to perform all 25 analyses and write up a report in just two weeks. “With physical testing it would have taken the work of four people to accomplish that in two weeks,” he notes.

Quest Aircraft’s founders started their company with a vision of a rugged airplane that would benefit humanity. By streamlining the development process, software from Siemens PLM Software is helping this vision become a reality.

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