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Makerplane aims to create the first open source aircraft

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August 29, 2012

Artists concept of MakerPlane 1.0 (Image: MakerPlane)

Artists concept of MakerPlane 1.0 (Image: MakerPlane)

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The idea of owning your own plane is the stuff of daydreams. It’s incredibly appealing, but despite some (relative) drops in pricing in recent years, it remains incredibly expensive. If you build your own plane from a kit, it’s a bit cheaper than buying one, but the odds are that you’ll never complete the job because kitplanes are notoriously difficult to build. However, that may be changing. MakerPlane is a project that aims to create an open source aircraft designed by contributors and built with digital manufacturing processes. You can’t download the plans into your 3D printer and fly away that afternoon, but it does hold the promise of making amateur aviation a lot more accessible.

MakerPlane plans to do for the aviation industry what Firefox and Linux did for computers. By adopting open source design and digital manufacturing, MakerPlane's founder John Nicol hopes to overcome the frustration and disappointment that most kit plane builders encounter. Over 60 percent of all kitplanes started end up collecting dust and those that are finished must overcome the challenges of complicated plans, the need for special tools and thousands of hours of labor with little or no manufacturer support.

Nicol believes that a more community-oriented design approach will overcome many of these obstacles. Israel-based aeronautical engineer Jeffrey Meyer is leading the MakerPlane charge to develop a safe, inexpensive kitplane that can be built at home or at a “makerspace” through the efforts of people volunteering their efforts and ideas. MakerPlane intends to make the plans and avionics software for the plane available for free, but will sell parts and support services to fund the project.

The basic design of MakerPlane 1.0, the prototype, has been settled on. It will be a two-seater light sports plane with a maximum takeoff weight of 600 kilograms (1,320 lbs) with a maximum speed of 120 knots (138 mph, 222 kph) and a ballistic parachute as a safety feature. “Basic” is the operative word here because one aspect of the MakerPlane project is to make the aircraft modular with many different options available as to wings, landing gear, engine and so on.

Model of MakerPlane 1.0 (Image: MakerPlane)

The other side of the MakerPlane project is that the aircraft will forego traditional building techniques in favor of digital fabrication. MakerPlane 1.0 will be built using computer-controlled (CNC) routers with 3D printers to help fabricate some of the parts. MakerPlane will also supply builders with the electronic files needed to program the machinery.

“The time savings are immense," says Nicol. "A wing rib can be cut out on a CNC machine in a matter of two or three minutes, instead of the current two or three hours using traditional methods. Our build process will include simple step by step build and assembly instructions, videos and animations. We are hoping to minimize text as much as possible.”

So far, MakerPlane 1.0 is still in the design stage, but the aim is to have the design complete within a year and for the prototype to fly at the 2014 AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Source: MakerPlane via DVICE

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
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11 Comments

Are they deliberately trying to make this Look like a boxy RC plane...

I know nice curves are expensiGet rid of the sharp edges and see the aerodynamics improve drastically....

Ok if they want to flat pack it all, straight sheets make sense (also cheaper to mould, but the moulds, are made once and used many times...

Notice the wing is smooth, and aerodynamic (of course) , well why is the fuselage then just a couple of flat slabs thrown together.... transitions make an aero package... (I am full of praise for the concept, though the execution may be lacking...)

Also, kit planes are notoriously unfinished because the average "builder/storer" buys one on a dream, without any experience building planes (they are usually "pilots", but not always.)... all kit plane builders need to start small.. an RC plane looking like this, is a start, then make one on 2-3 metre wing span (fix up the obvious imperfections), full size is only 4 times as big with about the same types of components (more of them and bigger)...

Once the builder has done a couple of smaller versions they they may be ready for the full size one.... Without dedication they (any versions) never get finished... Even a small RC plane takes time to do well (Or you can buy a foamy from hobbyking).

MD
29th August, 2012 @ 09:25 pm PDT

What a great idea! we need more people in the world who's sole aim in life is to help others enjoy the things you enjoy and not simply make a fat profit for themself.

I hope this project succeeds.

Oztechi
29th August, 2012 @ 11:26 pm PDT

MD, did you miss the point? This is an open-source plane - if you don't like the design, use your own expertise to improve it. In the mean time, I don't think it's that boxy, and large curved parts imply large, complex, expensive moulds that are not cost-effective for a one-off self-builder.

It would be nice to see more open-source hardware projects - washing machines spring to mind since most mainstream manufacturers seem to produce overpriced, corner-cutting, over-complex, planned-obsolescent, de-toleranced junk.

And I think I've used up my quota of hyphens.

Synchro
30th August, 2012 @ 02:45 am PDT

Nice idea but I don't think they understand the time allocation issues when building a kitplane. Wing ribs are already cut out prior to delivery, so the example stated in the article is a bit of a red herring. If you buy a high quality 'quick-build' kit from an established company like Vans, or Glasair, the basic airframe can be finished quite quickly. The real time and effort comes in fitting the engine, wiring, fitting out the cockpit, and bringing exterior surfaces up to a high quality. In addition, safety issues such as weight and weight distribution have to be addressed carefully while the build is ongoing. Even if this particular effort does not succeed 100%, I hope they'll contribute to some understanding of the process to a wider audience, and through that alone, they may make some worthwhile contributions to the field.

Robt
30th August, 2012 @ 06:08 am PDT

Looks like, with the right materials, and some missile rails (one reason for open source is mods and accessories), this would make for a nice, low radar cross-section, UAV that civilians can use as a second amendment ownership right to defend against a rogue, UAV-crazy, Fed. But it also could be built in a cave in {pick your favorite "terrorist" place}, so someone call DHS and have them shut this effort down asap. If a civilian is building something like this, out of sight of everyone, they must be up to no good and stopped.

solutions4circuits
30th August, 2012 @ 09:47 am PDT

Having built two airplanes myself I can honestly say this is pure jibberish. It is quite obvious they have never done anything other than play on their computer. They have no clue about what the challenges are in building an airplane, or what the design compromises are in an airplane. If you really want a "Light-sport" airplane, they don't get any better performing, or easier to build than the Van's RV-12.

Kenny Creed
30th August, 2012 @ 10:19 am PDT

Kenny,

Please read our website and forums before making such uninformed and quite nasty comments. I have two aircraft projects under my belt and Jeffrey has over 30 years designing aircraft. Other volunteers have built, or are building aircraft. It is easy to sit back and criticize, it is quite another to get off one's ass and do something positive.

John Nicol

John Nicol
30th August, 2012 @ 12:38 pm PDT

It seems like an interesting concept. To the naysayers: Isn't this essentially how the first plane was built? A group of people decided to test their knowledge of design and engineering to create something new. Isn't that really how all innovation begins?

Now for my own naysaying:

How the FAA will treat such aircraft. I'm sure it would qualify for E-LSA however, because it is open source, what is to keep someone from altering their design so that it would not meet FAA standards? Current kit planes are built with those requirements in mind. So I'm curious to see how those involved with the project handle that and how the will communicate that to potential builders.

Further, MakerPlane intends to use 3D printing for creating portions of the airframe. 3D printing and 3D printers are not an inexpensive technology. I'm not 100% up on what they cost, but it makes me wonder if it might be more cost effective for a potential builder to look at a kit plane from Vans or one of the other manufacturers.

On the whole though, this seems like a really awesome concept.

Brian Nicholas
31st August, 2012 @ 07:22 am PDT

You guys are re-inventing the wheel!

http://www.cozyaircraft.com/

Burt Rutan beat you to it 40 years ago!

http://www.opencanard.com/index.php/Main_Page

Richard Hughes
31st August, 2012 @ 09:48 am PDT

I agree with Kenny on this. Whilst I applaud anyone trying to make airplane building quicker and cheaper using modern technologies, most kits these days have the ribs already formed and even if they aren't, it doesn't take long to make one. Using a CNC machine implies that the Makerplane uses milled from solid (highly unlikely) or cut from sheet alloy, which will still require some folding and bending and rivetting.

I wish them well, but maybe some more research from the writer would have helped...

Martin Hone
31st August, 2012 @ 02:14 pm PDT

Martin,

Thanks for your comments! The aircraft is composite. Kits are expensive, parts are expensive, shipping is expensive. A single CNC machined and stamped Piper rib from Spruce is $54 plus tax and shipping. So yes you can get kit parts from the manufacturer, but folks seem to be missing the point of what we are trying to do. I am not sure what you are considering when you say it doesn't take long to make a rib as an example, but it is all relative. It depends on the material and the tools that you have. Still, cutting something out on a CNC is generally quicker than by hand and on average it is exponentially quicker. You will save shipping costs. The idea is to basically build your kit as you go on your own CNC machine, or at a makerspace. We are at the early stages of design and many decisions still need to be made of course.

Richard,

You emailed me separately with the same quote and as we discussed, Burt Rutan didn't solve the issue of hard to read plans and head scratching trying to figure out each step. He also didn't have access to CNC machines. Of course we would not be here without the pioneering efforts of Mr Rutan, so please don't infer that this is being negative! Talk about moving the whole industry into new territory! The Open Canard project is fantastic, but again, none of the instructions are complete and as you said to me, even the current Cozy plans and instructions are under modification from the build community because they are vague. Also, we have never professed to being the first open source aircraft project. This is some reporter somewhere that has twisted the story a bit. I would like to say that we are the first OS Aviation project, but again, doesn't really matter as long as we get the job done.

Brian,

The issue of people changing plans and designs for their own use is present now, so nothing new or specific to MakerPlane. Each aircraft is inspected by the FAA, so no matter the source of the plans, each build is treated as a new aircraft and is inspected as such. We are designing for E-LSA, but the builder will decide if they want to put extra weight into it, or a more powerful engine to take it into the heavier experimental category. This is true of kits as well as scratch-built.

Again, some reporter has twisted the original story and has probably not visited our site when doing the research. We are NOT BUILDING ANY PART OF THE AIRFRAME USING 3D PRINTERS!! We are looking at potentially using 3D printers for NON-STRUCTURAL parts and for tools and jigs etc. For example, maybe we can use 3D printers for throttle knobs, joysticks, instrument bezels etc.

In terms of cost-effectiveness and going to VANS etc. Well, we don't know yet. It is still early, but that is the intent. We have set a goal of 2 years to get the first aircraft up and flying. We are designing to be low cost and low build times and the point is to create a process whereby we have simple plans, instructions and processes which can be used for any aircraft, not just the E-LSA. Yep, it sure is ambitious and we may not meet all the goals, but we have to start somewhere and I am willing to give it a shot.

Also folks, just remember that this includes avionics, which are live and on the website now. There are more complete and updated avionics coming online in the next few weeks as well. So no matter if the aircraft is not what people want, need or care about, hopefully there is still some relevant content for folks that are flying now. Thanks for your time!

John Nicol
2nd September, 2012 @ 09:19 am PDT
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