Once, “Reverse Engineering” was an uncomplimentary phrase that implied product copying. Today, copying a physical object or model is an indispensable step in rapid prototyping. Digitizers or digital scanners capture a model in minutes instead of hours or days.
One example involves the control stick of an F-15 fighter jet. This hand-held device contains all
essential maneuvering and combat controls for the fighter. Its official name is HOTAS: Hands On Throttle and Stick, and it’s designed to allow the pilot to react quickly in combat situations by having all controls instantly accessible. It’s critical that the training simulator captures the feel of the real controls as accurately as possible.
First, the actual joystick is scanned…
“In today’s complex combat environment, it is imperative that aviators train like they are going to fight. Simulator HOTAS must mimic the actual feel of the aircraft. Even the smallest of variances on the stick or throttles can cause devastating results during combat maneuvers.” said Colonel Jeff Gustafson, veteran F-15 pilot and Vice Commander of the Air Force’s 33rd Fighter Wing.
Then, the Reverse-Engineered duplicate is created.
Joint Task Simulations manufactures accurate replicas of fighter control systems for military training. Just as this control stick is a challenge for new pilots, it also poses some unique challenges to reverse engineering. The F-15E was designed in the early 1980’s when organic shapes were typically hand-sculpted to create masters, and then die-cast for production. Accurately reproducing these organic shapes from scratch inside a modern day CAD system is
To help solve this problem and create an accurate model, Joint Task Simulations enlisted the help of Armer Design and Engineering. Mark Armer scanned the grip for the F-15E control stick using his NextEngine Desktop 3D Scanner.
Mark used the ScanStudio software that comes with the scanner to assemble the scans together. He provided some initial guidance by selecting points common to the scans and an automated algorithm did the rest of the work by precisely matching together the 3D surfaces.
The NextEngine scanner uses a new laser-stripe array technology that captures millions of points in parallel and crosschecks the points for accuracy to create realistic 3D models. These models can be exported in a variety of point cloud, mesh, surface, solid, and CAD file formats, allowing them to be used with most other 3D software.
After scanning the control stick, the model was exported to RapidWorks, a reverse engineering tool offered by NextEngine for creating CAD models from scan data. While not necessary for many manufacturing applications, the CAD model gives designers extra flexibility and makes it easier for them to make modifications. Joint Task Simulations modified the scanned model to include cavities for flight simulation electronics.
Through their use of scanning and reverse engineering technology, Joint Task Simulations and Armer Design and Engineering will be able to provide US fighter pilots with F-15 flight training hardware that feels just like the real thing.