Embraced by industry titans like Boeing and amateur R/C enthusiasts alike, 3D printing never been adopted more aggressively than in the aerospace industry. And when taken to the limits of its capabilities, 3D printing can produce more than just lightweight composite fan blades. We're talking full-blown flying wings.
Developed by the University of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in the UK, this prototype UAV has been fabricated almost entirely via 3D printed technology—specifically the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technique where layer upon layer of molten plastic is laid down to build up a component.
Per the AMRC:
The team succeeded in making the central body of the UAV, complete with the twin engine ducts and complex internal features, as a single, printed part, demonstrating how RM technologies can replace assemblies involving multiple components.
Designers also improved pitch control by creating a moveable "Duck Tail" that uses concepts similar to those recently used in Formula One racing to harness the air leaving the UAV's engines for aerodynamic effect.
Basically everything that could be printed was printed (like its glider predecessor), while the more complicated parts—like the engine assemblies and avionics—were bolted onto afterwards. The result: a sleek, 7.7 pound plastic and carbon fiber UAV with a 5 foot wingspan. Its dual electric engines produce 5.5 pounds of thrust and allow for a top speed of 45 mph once its been launched from a custom-designed catapult.
Unfortunately, there's little chance you or anybody you know will be seeing this overhead any time soon. The prototype is simply an intermediary iteration in the platform's development. It followed an engineless glider that debuted back in April and is expected to be surpassed by a 10-foot, gas turbine-powered iteration by the middle of next year. But someday 3D-printed drones are destined to fill the air. [AMRC 1, 2 via Gizmag]