3D-printed UAV

Last July, engineers from the UK's University of Southampton have flown an unmanned air vehicle whose chassis was entirely constructed of parts that came off a 3D printer; the parts were designed to snap-fit and the plane can be assembled without tools.

Professor Scanlan says: “The flexibility of the laser sintering process allows the design team to re-visit historical techniques and ideas that would have been prohibitively expensive using conventional manufacturing. One of these ideas involves the use of a Geodetic structure. This type of structure was initially developed by Barnes Wallis and famously used on the Vickers Wellington bomber which first flew in 1936. This form of structure is very stiff and lightweight, but very complex. If it was manufactured conventionally it would require a large number of individually tailored parts that would have to be bonded or fastened at great expense.”

Professor Keane adds: “Another design benefit that laser sintering provides is the use of an elliptical wing planform. Aerodynamicists have, for decades, known that elliptical wings offer drag benefits. The Spitfire wing was recognised as an extremely efficient design but it was notoriously difficult and expensive to manufacture. Again laser sintering removes the manufacturing constraint associated with shape complexity and in the SULSA aircraft there is no cost penalty in using an elliptical shape.”

Southampton engineers fly the world’s first ‘printed’ aircraft (Thanks, @dcarli!)


  1. Even before reading the post, I noticed the elliptical wing shape. Just like the RAF Spitfire, the flying thorn in  Hitler’s side. Gotta love those Brits. It was their finest hour.

  2. Oh to have had access to a printer like that when I was a kid.  RC aircraft were ridiculously expensive and unobtainable with paper route money.

    Now with a few engines… you could make your own Spitfire and a couple Heinkel 111s and re fight the Battle of britain with your friends (Didn’t Magnum and Higgens do that in an episode?)

  3. Oh good. As soon as the 3D printed weapons are ready, we can have physical avatars for video war games. I mean, the military is already doing it, but it’s getting cheaper for private armies to do it. If I remember correctly, somewhere in “Wired for War” by PJ Singer, he talks about some college kids who were contacted by a company selling weaponized UAVs, and they were considering participating in the Congo war using drones. But that was a few years ago, with heaps of money that the college kids had from collecting donations. Much cheaper now if people can do it with 3D printed stuff. Yay!

  4. This is a whole new level of scary.  Engineer says to nearby computer programmer: “Pssst ….. I think Skynet’s gonna love this ….”

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