Does The Idea Of Open Source Planes Really Fly?

from the nice-in-theory dept

The term "open source" was coined back in February 1998, and initially it applied only to software. But as the power of open, collaborative development became apparent, other spheres have adopted the "open" tag along with the underlying approach. Here's the latest example -- open source planes:

MakerPlane plans to do for the aviation industry what Firefox and Linux did for computers. By adopting open source design and digital manufacturing, MakerPlane's founder John Nicol hopes to overcome the frustration and disappointment that most kit plane builders encounter. Over 60 percent of all kitplanes started end up collecting dust and those that are finished must overcome the challenges of complicated plans, the need for special tools and thousands of hours of labor with little or no manufacturer support.
The idea is a good one: to use Computer Numerically-Controlled (CNC) machining tools and 3D printers to fabricate many of the parts more quickly and cheaply than with conventional methods. To aid that, all the electronic files needed will be supplied. But this does raise some questions.

For example, quality control becomes an issue when parts can be made by anyone with the right equipment. What guarantee is there that they meet the needs of a full-sized plane? Even more problematic is the open nature of the project: if people can modify the design files before producing them, what implications does this have for the airworthiness of the final result? In particular, who is responsible if something goes wrong, and someone is injured?

It's great to see open source methods being applied to ever-broader fields, but we also need to make sure that there are no high-profile disasters -- like open-source planes falling out of the sky -- that could set back the wider application of the idea for years.

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  1. icon
    Richard (profile), 7 Sep 2012 @ 2:04am

    Re: Production methods and certification are two different things

    To add to the above: One needs to be aware of the difference between type certification and certification of an individual aircraft.

    In private aviation there are many designs kicking around for homebuilders to use already. "Open sourcing" of a design does not in itself add to the problems that already exist when person A builds a design produced by company B. These problems are addressed by certification of the individual aircraft by qualified inspectors. Such requirement already exist even for large model aircraft (over 20kg in the UK).

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