Issue: Volume: 24 Issue: 3 (March 2001)

Designs for the Jet Set

Manufacturer creates custom interiors for luxury aircraft

By Karen Moltenbrey

For the rich and famous who purchase their own private jets, outfitting these ultimate status symbols with off-the-shelf "coach-class" cabin furnishings is out of the question. "They may spend $60 million for the plane and another $20 million for the interior," says Michael Berdan, engineering manager at Jerry Fain Models, which provides prototyping and machining services for the aerospace, marine, and automotive industries. "Everything inside the planes is a custom-made piece of art-from the mother-of-pearl countertops to the intricate sconce lights." It's for these discriminating tastes that the engineers at Jerry Fain Models produce customized interior fittings, brackets, and trim for luxury airplanes.

Jerry Fain Models in Bedford, Texas, is hired by private jet manufacturers such as Raytheon, Gulfstream, and Bombardier Aerospace, and the artists and designers who craft airplane interiors for celebrities, heads of state, and major corporations. Among the components the company creates are bathroom, wall, and light fixtures; fittings and brackets for various types of artwork (vases, paintings, sculptures, etchings); edging for counters and cabinets; dance floors; and table inlays.
When designing fittings and trim for the interiors of private planes, engineers at Jerry Fain Models must meet rigid FAA engineering standards while also meeting the sophisticated tastes and discriminating eyes of the aircraft's owners.

Finishing a room in a jet-whether it's a bathroom or bedroom-is far different from finishing a room in a home. Any object or furnishing that is hung, displayed, or mounted in the aircraft must meet FAA regulations pertaining to G-force standards, to ensure that it remains secured during turbulence or a hard landing. However, within this rigid engineering environment, it's not enough to meet manufacturing tolerances. "The product has to be structurally safe, and at the same time, it must look elegant," Berdan says. "The metal has to match and support the object snugly, so it doesn't vibrate or shake while the plane is in the air. To accomplish this, our measurements have to be within one-thousandth of an inch, and the only way to do that is with digital technology."

A glimpse inside a private jet would reveal bedrooms with beautiful glass lighting fixtures along the ceiling or up the walls, bathroom sinks and showers with intricately designed water fittings, fiber-optic lighting, and conference rooms containing glassblown lamps, custom-built art frames, and handmade cabinets. In a luxury jet, even items that appear rather simple, such as cabinet trim, are actually complex. "The cabinets, for instance, are rarely square, and generally there's no digital data available for them. So we have to reverse engineer the counters in order to build the gold trim that fits along them," notes Berdan. "We are working with artists and artisans, and they tend to design things with elaborate lines that are extremely beautiful. But for a 50-pound glass vase, we'd have to design the fittings to hold 16 times that weight, to meet FAA regulations. And the trim still has to be elegant, thin, and flexible."
Using reverse engineering, the group at Jerry Fain Models helped create this customized interior, which includes elaborate glass etchings and uniquely crafted seats, for one of its VIP customers. -- Images courtesy Jerry Fain Models.

Some of the objects that pose the most difficulty for the engineers are found in the bathrooms. In particular, the shower doors are quite demanding, since they have three-dimensional contours that the group must bend into shape and then match that shape for the trim. "The glass, which might have gold inlay, could cost $20,000," states Berdan. "If we break it, it's a costly error, and we have to start all over. So we have to be positively accurate with our measurements. In the end, the item has to be aesthetically pleasing to the customer, and it has to function as intended."

According to Berdan, the artists hired for a project produce 2D sketches, color boards, fabric samples, and renderings of their concepts for the plane's owner. Once the designs are approved, the artists and the plane manufacturer contact Jerry Fain Models to submit a bid for the job, based on the renderings. "There's no three-dimensional data associated with the interior other than the aircraft specs, which makes the bidding process difficult," he notes. Once hired, the engineers work closely with the artisans who are contracted to make the furniture and furnishings. "Most of them are craftsmen who do everything by hand, especially because they are making only one copy."

After the item is made, it is sent to Jerry Fain Models, which produces the trim, fasteners, or finish work. "The counters may have a snake-like shape, or they may bend and twist around corners," says Berdan. "When you make something like that by hand, the curves and the radii aren't very accurate. So we need to digitize and reverse engineer the edges before building our 3D models for CNC machining to ensure that our part will fit perfectly." For digitizing, the group uses a portable laser scanner from SMX.
Customers spend millions of dollars to outfit their private planes with one-of-a-kind objects. When creating the lamp base for this hand-blown piece of glass, the engineers had to ensure that the trim fit the asymmetric object perfectly. They also had to

Next the team generates surfaces from the point cloud data using Raindrop Geomagic's Geomagic Studio software, to produce a 3D model of the item. Then they use this data to create the trim and fittings for the object. "This is the only way to make sure that our trim fits perfectly the first time," Berdan says. Last, the data is exported as a standard IGES NURBS model to the company's SDRC I-deas and MasterCAM CAD/CAM software so it can be machined in-house. All the software runs on SGI Unix workstations and Windows-based PCs.

Once the 3D model is completed, the group textures and renders the image in Geomagic to check the smoothness and continuity of the surfaces. By rotating the image, we can see distortion in the textures, which generally means there is distortion in the data, Berdan notes. "If it looks smooth, we know we've got a quality model to bring into SDRC, and we start working from it."

According to Berdan, the company has been using 3D digital technology to perform reverse engineering for the past two years. Before that, the group measured each object by hand, which was difficult because of the curved and organic shapes. As a result, the group would have to output their material two or three times before achieving the desired fit.

"The [trim] material is extremely expensive-it's made from a high grade of aircraft aluminum that is later polished and usually plated in gold, platinum, or black nickel," explains Berdan. "That one plating can cost $1000. And when we quote a job, we base our figure on making an object once. If we had to make it twice because there was a gap or we missed something, we'd start eating the cost of that item."

Because the fittings are part of the artistry of the object itself, there are times when the customer is unhappy with the result. Before using digital tools, this would occur after the setting was machined. Now by using the rendering tools in Geomagic Studio and I-deas, the team can produce a photorealistic image for the client and obtain approval prior to outputting the part. "We can send them an accurate three-dimensional model over the Internet, which gives the customer a better perspective of the object," says Berdan. "This has also enabled us to cut our development time nearly in half since most changes now occur early in the process. We usually just go directly from concept to part."

Berdan believes that 3D technology has given the company a competitive advantage, enabling it to bid on almost any project. "I'd say that 95 percent of the time we can complete the job without making serious design changes to the objects from the artist," he says. "In a few instances we've come close to requesting a change to the artist's concept, but so far we haven't found anything we can't do, thanks to digital technology."

Geomagic Studio, Raindrop Geomagic (