An Eclipse-based Environment for Aircraft Design

Session Type: 
Standard [35 minutes]

Designing an aircraft is a complex task. Many experts are needed. Each of them contributes its knowledge about a specific domain to the overall design process (e.g., about engines, wings, and fuselages). The different domains have strong dependencies among each other. For example, an increase of the fuselage volume can lead to an increase of its mass. To keep the range of the aircraft, the engine’s power and thus, often its mass must be increased as well. In turn the designated wings must be re-designed to resist the engines.

Until today, a lot of research has been done to understand the dependencies with the objective of being capable to create automated, multidisciplinary analysis and optimization workflows for aircraft design. If answers were found to the research issues it is up to the software experts to support the aircraft design with software systems, which let the engineers do their work effectively and efficiently. For this reason, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) started to develop RCE (, a distributed, workflow-driven integration environment. It is based on the Eclipse Rich Client Platform (RCP) and is made available under the Eclipse Public License.

Even if Eclipse RCP is not meant to support specific engineering tasks it was a perfect starting base for RCE for many reasons:

The core of RCE is a workflow engine for executing design workflows. It must be extensible on-the-fly, because it is not known which design tools are contributed over the time. With OSGi and its dynamic services and modularity approach we got this extensibility nearly for free.
To provide engineers an intuitive way for creating workflows we make use of the Graphical Editing Framework (GEF), which is perfectly integrated in Eclipse.
As aircraft design is a complex task a challenge for the supportive software is to be operable as simple as possible. To achieve this, we intensively applied the integrative approach of Eclipse. We integrate all parts of the design process with the objective that the engineer can stay in RCE as a software developer like to do it with the Eclipse IDE. To handle the upcoming complexity we provide separate GUI elements (e.g., views, editors, dialogs) for every subtask. The user can hide or re-arrange them as he like.

In summary, without Eclipse RCP as the underlying technology we would not have overcome the efforts needed to implement RCE and thus, needed to support research in engineering fields.

In this talk, we give an overview of RCE, with emphasis on the reuse of Eclipse and OSGi technologies. We demonstrate the benefits we gained from using them, and discuss the challenges we encountered along the way.

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