Fast Falcon Retooled

After 18 months of computer modeling every component on the airplane, CAD files were fed to VX Aero’s 3-axis CNC machining unit by Diversified Machine Systems (DMS, Colorado Springs, Colo.), which cut precision masters (top photo, p. 58) from 38-lb/ft3 (0.6-g/cm3) RAKUTOOL plastic board supplied by Rampf Tooling (Grafenberg, Germany). Pattern surfaces were prepped and sealed with Chemlease (Chem-Trend, Howell, Mich.) and then polished and coated with Chemlease again in preparation for laminate lay up (bottom photo, p. 58).


VX Aero uses recycled carbon fiber mat (photo, p. 58) from Materials Innovation Technology Recycled Carbon Fiber (MIT RCF, Fletcher, N.C.) as the tooling bulk layers to build thickness quickly and cheaply (less than $2.00/ft2), interspersed with 3K carbon fiber plain weave fabric (about $5.00/ft2). This dry laminate is then infused with 350°F/180°C-cure PT5712 epoxy tooling resin from PTM&W Industries (Santa Fe Springs, Calif.), post-cured at 25°F over Tg for 18 hours and then surface coated. The Falcon’s fuselage tools were made using LTM318-1B glass fiber/epoxy OOA tooling prepreg from Cytec Aerospace Materials (Tempe, Ariz.) to match the final part materials.


“Everybody loves vinyl ester surface coats because they are hard, not prone to air leaks and have less water ingression,” notes Skillen, “But they are not compatible with epoxy matrix resins.” VX Aerospace achieves a vinyl ester (VE) surface coat by using 1799-006 vinyl ester primer from Hawkeye Industries (Bloomington, Calif.). Skillen says the resulting tools are void-free with very high gloss surfaces (see middle photo. p. 58).


By the end of 2013, VX Aerospace had completed masters for the Falcon’s horizontal tail and all of the fuselage components. Tooling from those masters is close to completion. The wing tooling is next in line. Limited rate production of 20 aircraft per year is planned using a team of 20 employees.