Bell P-39: Cockpit Glass

Bell P-39: Modelling Curved Cockpit Glass (Inv 2017)

Modelling the Cockpit glass can be a challenge to achieve the correct curvature and create the inevitable jogged and profiled edges.

P-39 canopy

The Bell drawing lists all the ordinates to enable us to create the profile sketches from which to derive the required basic shape with two areas worth extra consideration in respect to the rounded corners and the jog along the perimeter edge.

We developed the initial extruded surface from the contour ordinates and then simply extruded a sketch to trim this surface to the basic shape.

P-39 c1

The first thing we need to do is to fillet the corners. In Autodesk Inventor we cannot fillet a single surface, though we could use various techniques to do this we decided instead to Thicken the surface an arbitrary amount ( it does not much matter how thick it is) and then apply a fillet of each corner of the solid which ensures correct tangency.

P-39 C2

The jog along the edges is a bit tricky, given the nature of the surface. One way of doing this would be to sketch the jog profile and sweep the profile using the edge as the path. We tried this in several configurations but the result was not consistent.

To solve this we need to consider what a solid comprises off in order to rethink our strategy. A solid is essentially a series of closed surfaces that are used to contain the solid properties. With this in mind, we started by offsetting the top surface to create a copy at the desired jog dimension inward. Along the edge of this new surface, we sketched a circle with a radius the same as the jog flat dimension and swept this along the perimeter of the new surface.

P-39 C20

By using a circle profile for the sweep we ensure that the resulting flange; which is trimmed from the copied surface; will be a consistent width throughout its length. Now we have a surface representing the exact dimensions of the jogged top face at 3/8 inch. We do something similar for the top surface which is selected from the solid with the circle set to a bigger dimension to facilitate the jog transition curves. This time simply trimming to remove the edge width.

p-39 c21

This gives us 2 surfaces, the lower surface for the top face of the jogged flange and the second, the actual main surface for the top of the canopy glass. To fill the resulting gap between the surfaces we used a patch surface.

P-39 CX

We have trimmed the surfaces of the solid body thus breaking the solid cohesion leaving a number of orphaned surfaces which can now be deleted. To finish we would stitch the surfaces and then thicken to the required amount.

p-39 c12

To achieve a smooth transition when applying a patched surface between 2 surfaces a good result can often be achieved by using the tangency option relative to each joining surface. In this particular instance, the patch size was too small to do this so instead we applied fillets to achieve the same results.

A Note on Curvature:

P-39 Canopyx

It is absolutely critical to manage the curvature of the sketch profiles prior to lofting to ensure the best possible surface. This usually requires marginal adjustment to the ordinate dimensions; generally fractions of a millimetre; to achieve a good result.There is a small shoulder on this glass panel thus accounting for the slight edge deviation. To improve further the definition of the finished surface we can convert to a freeform surface which will derive a new surface with G2 curvature.

P-39 Cockpit Glass

Another Quick Tip:

Sheet metal flanges are restricted in Inventor to straight edge segments whereas with Solidworks we can actually create a curved flange where there is continuous tangency. One workaround in Inventor is to sweep a profile along the edge of the sheet metal part to create a flange or alternatively use the Ruled Surface feature.


This feature provides a few functions for extending surfaces either perpendicular or tangential to an existing surface. In this example, we simply select the default and create a perpendicular edge without requiring additional sketches.

Thicken the resulting surface, convert to sheet metal part and apply a traditional flange!


About Hugh

BIM & Cad Manager/Strategist, 3D/4D, multi-discipline cad workflows, integration. Interests include photography and historical aviation.
This entry was posted in Bell P-39, Sheet metalwork, Surface Modelling, Technote, WW2 Aircraft and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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