The Virtual Aircraft Museum

Welcome

The Virtual Aircraft Museum

Realistic Digital Recreations of Historical Aircraft

The Virtual Aircraft Museum

Digital Warplane Models

The Virtual Aircraft Museum

Get up close and personal

We have now added e-Drawing files to the aircraft pages as well as in the Wright Flyer Page.  Take this opportunity to review the models in 3D.  Manipulate them and create exploded views.  e-Drawings will be added to the Sopwith Camel and Spitfire in the coming weeks.

Objective and Purpose

Background

The Virtual Aircraft Museum is a leading source of highly detailed aircraft models available for viewing in the convenience of your armchair.

Putting together this website gives me an opportunity to display my hobby and my passion which is recreating military aircraft in 3D. This hobby stems from my love of aircraft that goes back a long way to the early 60s when I enjoyed reading the Fleetway Library “War Picture Library” war comics as well as any illustrated books on military aircraft. This was all supported by the constant sound of aircraft taking off and landing at the Thornhill airbase in what was then Southern Rhodesia.

From the age of six to eighteen, I traveled past the Thornhill airbase on the way to and from school getting very close views of the aircraft performing takeoffs and landings. I will cover the Rhodesian aircraft in a specific section.

In 1971 I was fortunate enough to be accepted on to 25 Pilot Training Course but unfortunately did not get to fly. This in no way dampened my love of aircraft.

As my working careers evolved I started working extensively with 3D CAD software to design lighting products. I transitioned to SolidWorks and to help me learn the software out of working hours, I decided to try recreating an aircraft in 3D. My all-time favourite is the Supermarine Spitfire so that was going to be my trial aircraft. I searched for blueprints to help me get started. Eventually, I came across a set of 2000 blueprints of various Spitfire Marks. It took me days to sort the drawings into some semblance of order. I then started modeling but all I was doing was making up a few individual parts but not many subassemblies. I made contact with people who were doing the same as I was and eventually learned about a book on the Spitfire MkIX that had a vast amount of information that is required when recreating the Spitfire. I bought the book and since then I have been able to tackle all parts of the MkIX when used in conjunction with the original drawings. (See acknowledgments to learn about the Spitfire book.) I soon realised that it would take several years to complete the Spitfire but I wanted to build up a library of aircraft. To do this I would need a different method and this opportunity arose when I completed a SolidWorks surfacing tutorial, the model being the F-16. Here was a non-detailed method that allowed me to create aircraft in a reasonable number of hours. (See Acknowledgements to learn about SolidWorks surface tutorials.)

Website Objective and Purpose

One of the objectives and purposes for setting up the website is for like-minded aircraft enthusiasts to be able to view a number of different iconic aircraft in a museum environment in the comfort of their homes. The other objective is to find other like-minded 3D modelers to join me in developing this Museum to hold most of the icon military aircraft. A team of modelers would speed up the creation of aircraft allowing this virtual museum to house more aircraft than most museums around the world.

The Virtual Aircraft Museum Creation Process

There are two types of modeling that I use. Where I have sufficient detailed information, I will recreate the aircraft in significant detail such as with the Supermarine Spitfire MkIX and Sopwith Camel. Where this detailed information is not available, I recreate the simplified version in enough detail that results in a 3D model which looks reasonably realistic when complete and rendered.

In the case of the fully detailed aircraft, this information is limited to a few aircraft.  The cost of the detailed drawings and the time recreating them makes it unrealistic for a single individual to complete sufficient numbers of aircraft to make a virtual aircraft museum interesting enough.

I believe the combination will be of interest to the viewer and the combination keeps it interesting for me as I am able to jump from detailed to superficial.

With permission, I will use 3rd Party models to help build the virtual aircraft museum portfolio. The time taken to create these aircraft varies from hundreds of hours for a detailed aircraft to tens of hours for a simplified aircraft.

Software

The software I use for 3D modelling is SolidWorks and for rendering the final product, I use SolidWorks Visualize. As I have large assemblies of aircraft and the museum building, it is necessary to have fairly powerful hardware. My desktop is now four years old but I have upgraded to Nvidia Quadro P4000 graphics card and as good as it is, I am reaching the limit of the memory.

Aircraft Choice

The first selection criteria is that all aircraft are military or in the case of the Wright Flier, of significant historic value. I then choose aircraft that I have found interesting since my childhood. As the portfolio grows, I am now able to group the aircraft by particular conflicts such as the Battle of Britain or D-Day. The choice of aircraft markings depends on the interest generated by a particular pilot or aircraft. New choices arise from talking to people and hearing what interests them or from seeing images that I find will create an interesting addition to the museum.

First Things First

Once I have decided on the aircraft, I look to see what drawings are available. This helps with the decision as to whether it will be fully detailed of just simplified. In the case of detailed aircraft, it is generally necessary to purchase the drawings and/or reference books.

Detailed Modelling

I started the Spitfire MkIX in 2010 and soon discovered the difficulty of getting sufficient information. I bought 2000 odd 1930s Spitfire drawings in digital form. These were great but they covered all marks which meant sorting through all of the drawings to put together all of those relating to the MkIX. This was still not enough information. I then discovered a book by Paul Monforton, a Canadian and aircraft enthusiast. This book combined with the drawings, allowed me to get on with the Spitfire to make it ready for the virtual aircraft museum. Below are two of the 2000 detailed drawings and the book cover of Paul Monforton’s Spitfire book.

In a detailed aircraft, I create each individual part from a drawing. To the left is the drawing of frame 11 and to the right is the 3D model.

When I have enough parts I put them together into a sub-assembly. The process continues until the aircraft is completed and ready for display on the virtual aircraft museum.

Non-Detailed Aircraft

Now to the aircraft where I have insufficient detail to make all parts. Here I work with a blueprint that has elevations. I search out the best fit on the internet. This example is of the P-38L Lightning. The first image is of the drawing I used and then an image of the complete 3D model in SolidWorks CAD software.
In most cases I have to use a bit of artistic licence as not all details line up. The Lightning took about 30 hours to complete.

Rendering for The Virtual Aircraft Museum

After completing the 3D modelling I transfer the 3D model to a virtual aircraft hanger, museum or outdoor space to create a photo-realistic image. In this software I create the textures to best match the aircraft as it would have been when in combat. I also select the aircraft markings that mean something to me. A typical render can take from fifteen minutes to four hours and before I get the correct paint finishes I might do a number of renderings. Below is the P-38L and P-51D after final rendering.

Preferred Software