PLEXIGLAS® for Aviation
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Clear view for glider pilots

© Akaflieg Darmstadt e. V.

Howling wind instead of engine noise: Gliding is one of the purest ways of flying. A single-piece cockpit canopy made from PLEXIGLAS® ensures an excellent view of the surroundings and air traffic.

“Gliding is a feeling that is impossible to describe. As soon as I am in the air, I literally leave everything behind on the ground,” says Andreas Bott with bright eyes. The 25-year old is a member of the Akademischen Fliegergruppe Darmstadt e. V., Akaflieg Darmstadt for short, a very special club: For over 100 years, students have been fulfilling their dream of flying (or gliding) here, away from lectures and exams.

A clear view is vital

In addition to a fascination for flying, the hobby pilots in the club mainly need technical skills. In line with the motto “research, build, fly”, the members do everything themselves, from designing the glider to building it and testing it in flight.

The cockpit is at the core part of every glider: It is where the pilot sits and observes weather conditions and the airspace around him through the curved canopy. “A clear view is vital when gliding,” Bott emphasizes. Alongside GPS navigation, the pilots still mainly rely on sight when flying. “It allows us to react quickly to an aircraft heading our way or to changing cloud formations and the changing thermal conditions we need for flying,” says Bott, explaining his experience. “A good panoramic view is also especially important for guidance when landing, electronics cannot help us here.”

A seamless view of the sky

A transparent canopy made from PLEXIGLAS® ensures a seamless panoramic view for the pilot. The brand acrylic glass by Röhm provides a distortion-free view with its high optical quality and can also be flexibly designed to fit the aircraft fuselage. “The glider canopy can be made from a single sheet of PLEXIGLAS®. This avoids seams that would otherwise obstruct the view,” explains Bott. PLEXIGLAS® has therefore become a standard material for gliders. “For me, there is no conceivable alternative to PLEXIGLAS® for gliding,” states hobby pilot Bott.

Ready for takeoff

The students construct a complete glider with wings, fuselage and cockpit using a what is known as a sandwich construction method.

© Akaflieg Darmstadt e. V.

The core part of a glider

Along with the pilot, all technology is also located in the cockpit. The pilot carefully observers the flight environment through the curved PLEXIGLAS® canopy.

© Akaflieg Darmstadt e. V.

Seamless panoramic view

The four already registered aircraft of the club are in use every weekend, especially during the summer months. Since gliders require sufficient thermal and stable wind conditions, many gliders dot the sky above the airfield in Heppenheim when the weather is good. A clear view through the PLEXIGLAS® canopy is vital in such situations.

© Akaflieg Darmstadt e. V.

Accident safety has top priority

In addition to a distortion-free view, PLEXIGLAS® has additional benefits for aviation: It is lighter than glass, but also less likely to shatter. This is especially important for crash safety, as this purist form of flying does still harbor a certain risk. When the weather changes, this immediately affects the glider, which is why nearly every pilot has experienced turbulence during a flight. To ensure safety during unprepared landings, glider construction is subject to strict safety requirements. “In an accident, the cockpit needs to be detachable from the fuselage like a capsule. And of course, the canopy must not deform or break in the process,” explains Bott. The PLEXIGLAS® canopy retains its shape during an accident.

PLEXIGLAS® also protects glider pilots from the strong solar radiation at altitude at all times. The UV protection inherent to the material only allows warming sunlight to enter the aircraft while harmful solar radiation is filtered out. Transparent colorings prevent the sun from blinding the pilot, for example during takeoff.

Research, build, fly

Several years of work are required before the hobby pilots can take off with their aircraft. “Our aim was and is to test something we have never done before in every aircraft we build. Of course, this means a lot of work,” says Bott who is studying for his Master’s degree. But that doesn’t deter the members of the Akademische Fliegergruppe, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2020. After all, the incomparable feeling of freedom you get while gliding makes it all worth it.

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