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BAE Systems engineers reveal digital design concepts to shape UK’s next combat aircraft


BAE Systems has unveiled the digital techniques that are being used to design Britain's Tempest sixth-generation fighter jet. By using a combination of computer-simulated digital twins and 3D-printed models, the goal is to simplify and speed up the development of the combat aircraft, which is scheduled to enter active service by 2035.

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BAE Systems engineers reveal digital design concepts to shape UKs next combat aircraft 925 001 Mockup of Tempest sixth-generation fighter jet. (Picture source: BAE Systems)


Using the latest digital twin technologies, conceptual shapes for the aircraft have been virtually designed and tested, with high-performance computers able to calculate the aerodynamic performance of different aircraft features and test pilots taking Tempest to the skies from a ground-based simulator.

Once digitally tested, scale models were 3D printed and put through their paces at BAE Systems’ world-class wind tunnel facilities at Warton, Lancashire to physically test the aerodynamic properties of the design under harsh wind speeds of more than twice the speed of sound. Data from these trials is now being used to refine and shape the final design of the UK’s next combat aircraft, which will be in service by 2035.

The research forms part of a wider UK-led effort to define the requirements for a future air combat system, and ultimately deliver the most advanced engineering project Britain has ever seen. BAE Systems is working closely with Rolls Royce, Leonardo and MBDA as part of Team Tempest to explore more than sixty technology areas in total, experimenting with different ideas ranging from the physical shape of an aircraft to the sophisticated sensors that will become the brains of a future system.

This digital twin concept underpins the entire engineering lifecycle for Tempest. From initial designs, to manufacture and support, the concept will create an open and agile workspace for those involved on the programme. It has also been adopted in the development of a first of its kind Factory of the Future at Warton in Lancashire which BAE Systems is currently using to demonstrate how the future fighter aircraft could be built. Here, data from intelligent robots, supply chain databases and machines is digitally threaded together to deliver increased efficiency and accuracy in the manufacturing process.

BAE Systems are using data from the trials, combined with research across the programme and together with its Team Tempest partners to contribute towards the development of an Outline Business Case to be considered by the UK Government, which is scheduled to be the next major decision point on commencing the next phase of a Combat Air Acquisition Programme for the UK.