“The UK Space Modelling Team could not manage without Edgecam – it has been so useful in helping us become real contenders on the world stage.” Those are the words of former World Champion space model flyer Mike Francies who uses the market leading CNC machining software to make moulds for all the UK team’s models.
As Chairman of FAIR, the organisation responsible for selecting the individual members of the Space Modelling team representing the UK at World Championships and other international events, Mike Francies produces most of the components for the team’s rocket craft.
The retired Design Technology teacher’s long-standing passion for composite materials and CNC technology resulted in him building his own CNC mill/router in his home workshop at Ormskirk in Lancashire. With space model competitions having eight flying categories, each requiring different types of rocket-powered craft, he now produces a wide variety of aluminium moulds on his CNC machine which are then used to manufacture the components out of materials such as carbon and glass fibre .
FAIR, -- Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, Rocketry -- holds a number of trials around the country to determine the team of five or six seniors and three juniors to compete in the world and European championships in alternate years. 2011 sees the European Championships in Romania, followed by the 2012 World Championships in Slovakia.
A former World Champion himself in 2004 in the radio controlled glider category, Mike Francies came to the sport through normal radio controlled model gliding. The difference being that in space modelling his glider is launched vertically with a 40 Newton-second rocket motor, reaching speeds of up to 150 mph. The motor stops after about ten seconds and the radio control then adjusts flaps, ailerons, air brakes, elevators and rudders. The glider has to be in the air for a total of precisely six minutes before making a precision landing in a target area. Points are deducted for every second under or over six minutes that the craft is in flight. One hundred bonus points are gained for landing within a metre of the target, but reduce the further away the glider lands.
Other categories include: altitude; parachute duration where a rocket has to descend for five minutes by parachute; small free flight glider which has to stay airborne for three minutes; streamer duration, where a banner is ejected as the rocket reaches its apex and trails behind the craft for as long as possible; and a category for true scale large models up to 2.5 metres tall, which is not currently flown by UK competitors at European or World Championships.
Edgecam sponsors the UK Space Modelling Team and provides software for Mike Francies’s home-made CNC machine. He says: “I’m probably only tickling the surface of Edgecam’s capabilities, but what it does for me has made the UK real contenders on the world stage in this sport.”
Designs created on Pro/DESKTOP and other CAD systems are readily imported into Edgecam, which then generates the toolpaths for his moulds. “It takes as little as an hour to produce some of these – but it would be impossible to do it any other way. With several thousand lines of code required for each mould I just sit back and marvel at the phenomenal number crunching that must be going on inside Edgecam while it produces the code for me. Then a few moments later I’ve got my toolpath.”
“We don’t build the lightest models, but we build the most efficient because many of the parts are interchangeable.” As an example, he cites an international meeting where one of the UK team made it through to the fly-off for the title, but his craft had been badly damaged. “We managed to cobble another model together by adding components from one of mine to his undamaged parts and some of his spares. He went into the fly-off without having tested it...and won silver! It worked because everything was jigged and moulded, so it fit together perfectly.”
He says the standard of their models is making them the envy of many other teams around the world, and he puts it all down to Edgecam producing shapes such as elliptical wings, that could not be manufactured by hand. “The wings are moulded from carbon fibre with a rohacell acrylic foam core , and the standard way of cutting foam gives a straight taper. To produce elliptical wings for my glider would be impossible without Edgecam. And all our fins have proper aerofoil shapes, which other teams just can’t produce. Edgecam is making our models more efficient all the time.”