The AARC X-3 Experimental Rocketplane is the product of a fun little project I embarked on this summer. I wanted to take a design from inception to final polish using the collective wisdom of my social network – soliciting comments on Facebook, Instagram and Reddit to help choose what direction the design would take. Obviously, for personal projects, I am usually the final arbiter of taste, so this was a refreshing exercise to let other voices dictate how a design evolved.
The design began life as a series of thumbnail doodles of Raygun Gothic-inspired spacecraft, inspired by vintage sci-fi serials like Space Patrol and Rocky Jones Space Ranger.
The initial design was very clearly leaning to a sort of cigar-with-wings shape, probably influenced in part by an early drone aircraft I had seen once at the Smithsonian, so I took a few of the better doodles and cleaned them up…
… And used them as a springboard into a whole set of variations on the theme. These rough sketches were posted to social media, leaving it to the collective wisdom of the internet to choose a favourite design.
And the most popular version (by only a couple of votes!) was this sexy swept-wing craft. I personally love the idea of Burt Rutan-style fixed landing gear in an aerodynamic cowl, so it was exciting to be able to develop this concept futher.
With the basic design locked down, I started refining it with a series of plan drawings. The details and finish of the design were inspired by the groundbreaking experimental aircraft of the 1950s and 60s; the aircraft that broke the first ground of the Space Race. All bare metal finishes and sleek, dart-like profiles.
The next step was to focus in on details such as the landing gear:
The cockpit was inspired by an experimental French jet plane, the Leduc 0.21
The airbrake mechanism took quite a bit of research to get right:
To cap it all off, I produced a series of beauty shots of the final design in all her glory:
The pilot of the aircraft is modeled after real-life pilot Jacquelyn S. Parker, the first woman to fly an F-16 fighter jet.
And finally, a sunset shot:
And even now I can’t seem to quite allow myself to tie a bow on the project: I’ve gone and drawn a cutaway diagram of the Rocketplane, too!
See also: The final Rocketplane design in my portfolio.