Monday, October 28, 2013

Open Source Aeronautical Engineering Tools

I was reading through some of the papers and cites related to OpenMDAO and stumbled across a couple interesting papers[12] on open source software in aeronautics.
Abstract: Open source software has become an alternative to commercial software for industrial users. Industrial users adopting to OSS and the underlying concepts need to consider changing their software development practices and organization in order to benefit from the OSS model. These changes may involve both technical and non-technical aspects. Openness and collaboration with a community are two non-technical concepts that may require such changes, while evaluating OSS products or evaluating different strategies for integrating OSS products are two technical aspects that may require adoption.
The objective of this paper is to create an awareness for the adoption of OSS in an industrial context. OSS can be used in different ways. Four categories of using OSS are presented by discussing motivation, implication and experience for each category. The main conclusion from this work is that organizations should have a realistic expectation of both the designated benefits and extension of organizational changes necessary to adopt to OSS. This conclusion is based on observations from industrial organizations using OSS, including OSS in the aeronautics industry, as well as from observations reported in the literature on open source.

The claim in the abstract that really caught my eye was that industrial users were using open source software for aeronautics applications. Here’s the list (given in Table 1 of [1]) of some open source aero tools:
aerodynamics, vortex lattice code
finite element solver
conceptual aircraft design (unfortunately MATLAB based)
image segmentation
optimization, parameter estimation, sensitivity analysis and uncertainty quantification
finite element solver
distributed object and event architecture
flight dynamics model including fully configurable flight control system, aerodynamics, propulsion, landing gear arrangement, rotational earth effects on the equations of motion and output formats
3D modeling and visualization
computational fluid dynamics (CFD) package for complex fluid flows involving chemical reactions, turbulence and heat transfer, to solid dynamics and electromagnetics, also includes tools for meshing
multi-disciplinary analysis and optimization
numerical optimization
numerical optimization
numerical computing
data visualization
aerodynamics (unfortunately MATLAB based)
analysis tool for airfoils, wings and planes operating at low Reynolds Numbers
interactive program for the design and analysis of subsonic isolated airfoils
To that list I would add:
Public Domain Aeronautical Software, lots of oldies, but goodies
Stanford University Unstructured CFD code
open source parametric aircraft geometry tool, vehicle sketch pad
open source solid modeling system that includes interactive geometry editing, high-performance ray-tracing for rendering and geometric analysis, image and signal-processing tools
parametric 3D modeler
software for creating solid 3D CAD objects
3D CAD application with extensive CAM features
3D finite element grid generator with a build-in CAD engine and post-processor
Computational Geometry Algorithms Library, unstructured mesh generation capability
Many of the projects on the list are clearly academic, and I'm quite skeptical that they are used in a serious production environment which will have access to varied and capable commercial offerings. On the other hand, projects like OpenFOAM and JSBSIM are undoubtedly industrial-grade. Pretty impressive list of free software and associated capabilities nonetheless. Don't forget to keep an eye on for new projects too.


[1]   Ziemer, S., “On the adoption of open source software in aeronautics,” Aerospace Conference, 2012IEEE, 2012, pp. 1–10.
[2]   Ziemer, S., Hauge, O., Osterlie, T., and Lindman, J., “Understanding Open Source in an Industrial Context,” Signal Image Technology and Internet Based Systems, 2008. SITIS ’08. IEEE InternationalConference on, 2008, pp. 539–546.


  1. Add Blender to the list: Parametric Deformation of Discrete Geometry for Aerodynamic Shape Design
    Abstract: We present a versatile discrete geometry manipulation platform for aerospace vehicle shape optimization. The platform is based on the geometry kernel of an open-source modeling tool called Blender and offers access to four parametric deformation techniques: lattice, cage-based, skeletal, and direct manipulation. Custom deformation methods are implemented as plugins, and the kernel is controlled through a scripting interface.