Site Map Email the Designer Copyright © 2012 Apollo Canard Popular CAD Programs All prices based on 2012 US dollars AutoCAD:  Produced by AutoDesk, this is the commercial standard for high-end 2D drafting software.  A wide variety of commands are available for creating complex drawings with lines, polylines, circles, splines, fillets, cross-hatching, text, dimensions, etc.  The program can be customized with LISP and VBA routines.  AutoCAD includes 3D wireframe, surfacing and solid modeling capabilities, but the 3D models are difficult to edit and 3D commands are limited.  Mostly used as a 2D drawing tool.  Sold by “Value Added Retailers”.  The price is around $3,995 but discounts of a few hundred dollars are often available. AutoCAD LT:  This lightweight version of AutoCAD is designed for the retail market.  Strictly a 2D product, it is highly rated by users and can create detailed top, front, and side views of your aircraft.  LT is fully compatible with AutoCAD because they both use the DWG file format, which is the Autodesk standard for 2D drawings.  MSRP is around $1,200 but look for big discounts at Amazon and other retailers. IntelliCAD:  This software emulates the functions and interface of AutoCAD.  IntelliCAD was developed by the ITC technology consortium and members are licensed to sell OEM versions.  They claim full compatibility with the Autodesk DWG format.  Trial copies are available on the Internet.  Licensed versions are priced as low as $199. TurboCAD Deluxe:  This low priced version is the most popular retail CAD program.  It competes with AutoCAD LT and claims compatibility with the DWG format.  The Deluxe version provides a competent 2D drawing program with limited 3D capability.  Higher end versions are available.  MSRP for the Deluxe edition is $129.99 (or less than $100 on sale). DraftSight:  This is a relatively new 2D product from Dassault Systems, the makers of CATIA and SolidWorks (which are industry standards for 3D work).  This easy-to-use FREE program lets you create, edit and view DWG files.  Designed for professionals and students alike, it has already been downloaded by over 1 million users!  You might want to compare DraftSight’s features to the FREE 2D drawing program from Solid Edge, described further down the list. Alibre Design Xpress:  This FREE 3D software is a lightweight version of the professional grade Alibre Design program.  Both programs are true parametric solid modelers.  The Xpress version provides basic 3D capability for designing mechanical parts and assemblies, plus 2D drawings.  More advanced features require expensive upgrades.  Amateur designers might consider the Personal edition, which cost $199 or less on the Internet. Ashlar-Vellum Graphite or Cobalt:  The Graphite program is a powerful 2D drafting tool with 3D wireframe capability.  Cobalt is a full featured 3D modeler offering “Class A” surfaces, parametric solids, 3D wireframe, and 2D drafting in one seamless package.  Both programs have intuitive interfaces and Cobalt includes more than 30 translators.  Burt Rutan used Cobalt (aka Vellum) to model aircraft concepts on his Macintosh.  Windows versions came out after the Mac version but faced tough competition from PC-based CAD vendors.  Graphite sells for $1,395 and Cobalt goes for $2,995. Rhinoceros:  Rhino specializes in creating 3D surfaces and solids.  Commonly used for industrial and graphic design, it’s perfect for lofting wings, fuselages, cowlings, canopies, etc.  I used Rhino to loft the Apollo’s canopy because it produced better surfaces than my CAD software.  Rhino includes over 30 translators and offers 100+ third party plug-ins.  The downside is that Rhino is not a parametric modeler (which means editing models can be cumbersome) and the 2D drawing tools are lacking in comparison to other CAD programs.  A trial version is available and the commercial license is $995. SolidWorks:  SolidWorks (SW) was one of the first 3D parametric solid modeling programs.  Written for the PC and created specifically for mechanical engineers, it remains the industry standard for mid-range 3D CAD.  SW includes Finite Element Analysis and plug-ins for CFD and CAM are available.  Lofting and surfacing tools have greatly improved over the years.  Many small aircraft have been designed with SW, including several at Scaled Composites.  Relatively easy to learn, the program is popular with engineering students and professionals.  The standard edition is $3,995 and prices go up from there.  Non-commercial student versions are around $100 but expire after one year. Solid Edge:  This program is similar to SolidWorks in its 3D capability.  It never reached the same level of acceptance that SW did, but it survives with a smaller user base.  The amateur aircraft designer may be more interested in the Solid Edge 2D Drafting product.  This is a FREE drawing program that emulates the AutoCAD feature set.  If you’re not ready for 3D and not sure about CAD in general, the 2D option doesn’t cost anything to try.  Solid Edge cost about $4,995. Inventor:  This software is the Autodesk replacement for Mechanical Desktop (MDT).  It was created to compete with SolidWorks because MDT was losing market share.  Inventor had a lot of catching up to do but finally became a serious competitor with the introduction of multi-body solids in 2010.  I use Inventor now and love the user interface.  It lacks the power of SolidWorks in some areas but should meet the needs of any small aircraft designer.  The “Professional” version includes Finite Element Analysis and other advanced features.  Inventor prices start at $3,995.  The parts-only LT version cost 75% less but does not support assemblies.  Trial versions of Inventor are available and student versions are free. CATIA, Pro-Engineer, Unigraphics NX:  These are the “big three” high-end CAD systems used by the aerospace and automotive industries.  They are not popular with amateur designers due to their high cost and steep learning curve.  Here’s what you should know: CATIA v5 is the de-facto standard for 3D CAD in the aerospace industry.  The software is sold in modules (aka workbenches) and by the time you purchase all the modules you need or want, you’ve spent $15K or more.  Restricted student editions are available. Pro-Engineer (now called Creo Elements) was the first 3D parametric solid modeler and became very successful.  But the developer started focusing on PLM software and many buyers decided the cost of Pro-E was too high.  The company lost market share to SolidWorks, Solid Edge and others.  They offer a FREE personal edition that is restricted to 60 parts. Unigraphics NX is the 3rd big competitor and is used by a wide range of companies.  The developer offers a popular analysis program called FEMAP that can be bundled with NX, but these products are marketed to corporate users and prices are high enough that individual users don’t usually purchase them.