As I stood watching the CNC Router carving the beautiful, almost organic looking Spitfire cockpit coaming casting I could not help but marvel at the evolution of man and his tools. I would never have thought that I, a relative dunce at handwork, could recreate the cockpit of the most elegant aircraft design ever devised. And make it look good.
Such is the wondrous world of the 4th Industrial Revolution. Twenty one months ago I set out to create this, inspired by having flown DCS World’s Spitfire Mk.IX in Virtual Reality and the possibilities offered by 3D Printing, CNC machining and laser cutting. I must also mention that having seen the great work of John Fall on GrabCad also was inspiring and hinted at the possibilities. I must also acknowledge AutoCad in this, without them making available Fusion 360 free for start-up companies, I would not have been able to progress as I have. If ever I reach a $100k per year turnover with my company, I shall gladly take a paid subscription to their software.
So as you will have noted from the featured image the Instrument Panel is complete! It has turned a thing of true beauty, every bit as wonderful as the rendered image posted what seems like ages ago (August last year I see!). I hope you will agree.
Things are now really moving. I have received all of the laser cut sheetmetal, many of the fittings, the routed plywood covering and the waterjet cut Lexan or clear polycarbonate. I must say the later is the only order that disappointed somewhat. The cuts are pretty rough and very little care was taken in preventing the material from getting scratched. You live and learn. Next time I will try with Plexiglass which is more scratch resistant and I will have it CNC routed with a trusted supplier instead.
So back to the coaming casting… On the real Spitfire this was cast aluminium, designed to provide a streamlined connection between the Windscreen assembly and the fuselage. I routed it on my small CNC router after having stuck two layers of 22mm MFD together. It took 8 hours, demanding my full time attention as I was the vacuum hose operator. Hmm…got to get one of those extraction shoes before I try that again! Anyway, the intent was to use that as a vacuum forming mould with 3mm ABS plastic. I took it to a company to pull as many copies as they could from the mould. They indicated that given the finish and design, it was likely to only last one pull. Their forecast was correct. It does look nice though! I already have a modified design in mind for future use which will allow multiple pulls. After I have obtained a dust extraction shoe for the router..!
After finishing the instrument panel I packed away all the bits I had put together so far in order to protect them from the dust to come. I started the covering of the fuselage! After much thought on the sequence of the installation of the cover panels, I marked the edges of the 3mm flexi-plywood back by 24mm for scarfing. This is to thin the edges down at an angle so that the thickness of overlapping panels remains constant at the join. The things you learn from YouTube!
I have also been stapling the panels where it is not possible to clamp it to the frame. Seems to work ok, just need a small sliver of wood to prevent the staple crossbar from disfiguring the panel.
What else… Oh, been bending things and received the 2mm aluminium sheetmetal bits. Thats great because they were the last batch required and contain many of the brackets required to assemble the cockpit.
And so, back to work! So much to do, so little time….!!!