Designing in CAD - A beginners guide

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Written by David Walker
Find the entire feature on page 31 in the August 2011 issue.
Read an abridged summary as well as download free CAD software.

EVOLUTION: Our hobby has been evolving rapidly lately. From computer radios to laser-cut kits to electric-powered aircraft that not only rival their glow counterparts, but often exceed them in performance, our hobby is changing.

Another aspect of aeromodeling that has evolved is ARFs and RTFs. There are great benefits to the proliferation of these models, but a result of this progress is that traditional kits have almost disappeared.

If you are the way I am and still love to build, your options are rather limited. This is unfortunate because just as laser-cutting was becoming mainstream, the decline of kits had already begun. What is a modeler to do who loves to build?

The not-so-obvious answer is to design your own kits using CAD, or computer-aided design. Once you are familiar with CAD there is no limit to the aircraft you can model, whether your interest is RC, FF, or CL.

Many aeromodelers who are unfamiliar with CAD might find it daunting. It used to be true that you needed a super-powerful computer; months, if not years, of training; and a lot of money to use a CAD package.

Fortunately for us, CAD has also evolved—to the point where any modeler with basic computer knowledge can use it on an existing computer as long as it is less than 10 years old. And for what we are doing, the cost can be zero dollars. Even if you have only a passing interest, you owe it to yourself to learn more and try it.

Read about the important features of CAD, fundamental terms, and printing processes on page 31 of the August 2011 issue.

You can also read how to laser cut your own parts on page 54 of the November 2011 issue.

Click to download free CAD software from Google


I just read the article - great feature. I use CAD quite a bit for my job. People ask all the time how they can learn the software. The best way is just to start playing around! You're going to mess up a lot, but the more you try the better you'll get.

I am familiar with several CAD packages from work. But how does one accurately reproduce a fuselage, for instance, from a 3-view or similar with only limited dimensions?

The specific steps vary depending on the program. Basically you need to import a 3 view image. Then depending on the CAD package, scale the 3 view now, or draw the outlines and then scale. This should give the scaled outline. You will then need to add the structure.

We are currently considering a followup feature article that would provide more advanced instruction on CAD design.

More information on CAD is most welcome. Would it be possible to make a video showing the required steps to produce a simple airplane using Google SketchUp? To paraphrase, a video is worth a thousand words.

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