What I’ve Learned Putting Skin on My Simulator

With my Cessna 172 Project, I’ve learned a lot of lessons about how sheet goods work. 

Here are some of them outlined below:

Sheet Metal is 2D, not 3D:

To put a skin/covering on your simulator you really need to think of the material in terms of 2D not 3D. To unwrap a cube you need a cube pattern, but to unwrap a sphere you need two weird shapes that look like Medusa’s hair.

Compound Curves:

Not all curves are created equal! You can easily unwrap a cylinder as long as you have a rectangle and its two respective circles, but it is a lot harder to unwrap a sphere. This type of curve is called a compound curve, it’s one you’d find when unpeeling an orange peel: There is no perfect way to unwrap it!! The only way is to stretch or shrink areas of it.

Stretching and Shrinking:

Some materials (one example being metal) like to grow and shrink if persuaded to do so. With Aluminum, you can use rollers and other special tools to expand parts of it, and shrink other parts. Think of this as the scene in action movies where the supervillain punches through a metal door and you can see an indentation that came from their hand. The metal just expanded/stretched to fit their hand! You can take this principle (though in a less violent way) and apply it to your flight simulator 🙂 This may be difficult if not impossible for some stubborn materials like wood, which doesn’t really like to stretch out in this way.

Some Materials Bend Better than Others:

Some materials like bending and some do not! Which bends easier under standard conditions: Glass or Metal? Probably metal 🙂 You typically think of cardboard as very flexible, but an equal thickness of steel is not very flexible. This may actually be an unfair advantage, however, as cardboard has large air pockets. If you squish cardboard down you’ll find it’s actually rather thin. 


Flexibility  typically has to do with the thickness of the material however. ⅛” of Plywood is extremely flexible, where ⅜” of plywood can be impossible to bend to the desired radius without splitting. This has to do with which parts of it shrink and contract.

Expansion and Contraction:

Whenever you bend something (even as thin as a piece of paper) parts of it are expanding, and parts of it are contracting. If you look at the image below you’ll see that parts of the metal get pressed together, where other parts of the metal get stretched apart.

I’ve learned so much more about sheet goods than I thought I ever could and hopefully, you learned something about them too. 

Have a fantabulous day, and I’ll see you later.

-Trevor (Captain Bob)

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