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Aircraft Made From 3D Printing

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the fleet-on-the-cheap dept.

Transportation 68

countertrolling tips news of a project undertaken at the University of Southampton, where engineers designed and created a functioning UAV using unusual methods. Quoting: "It was printed on an EOS EOSINT P730 nylon laser sintering machine, which fabricates plastic or metal objects, building up the item layer by layer. No fasteners were used and all equipment was attached using ‘snap fit’ techniques so that the entire aircraft can be put together without tools in minutes. The electric-powered aircraft, with a 2-meter wingspan, has a top speed of nearly 100 miles per hour, but when in cruise mode is almost silent. The aircraft is also equipped with a miniature autopilot developed by Dr. Matt Bennett, one of the members of the team."

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Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36934516)


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Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36934572)

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        GNU General Public License for more details.

        You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License
        along with this program. If not, see <>.

Also add information on how to contact you by electronic and paper mail.

    If the program does terminal interaction, make it output a short
notice like this when it starts in an interactive mode:

        <program> Copyright (C) <year> <name of author>
        This program comes with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY; for details type `show w'.
        This is free software, and you are welcome to redistribute it
        under certain conditions; type `show c' for details.

The hypothetical commands `show w' and `show c' should show the appropriate
parts of the General Public License. Of course, your program's commands
might be different; for a GUI interface, you would use an "about box".

    You should also get your employer (if you work as a programmer) or school,
if any, to sign a "copyright disclaimer" for the program, if necessary.
For more information on this, and how to apply and follow the GNU GPL, see

    The GNU General Public License does not permit incorporating your program
into proprietary programs. If your program is a subroutine library, you
may consider it more useful to permit linking proprietary applications with
the library. If this is what you want to do, use the GNU Lesser General
Public License instead of this License. But first, please read


Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36935348)

It's a SPITFIRE! The bird that will never die.

Absolutely the most elegant and tasteful extrusion in the entire history of industrial production. She lives on, yet.


Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36935574)

Sure it's a "Spitfire"... except it has the engine and prop in the rear, it's electric, V-tail, no rudder, different shaped body, no canopy... Yeah, it's just like a Spitfire.

Oh, you mean the wings use a oval design used by many other aircraft? Yeah that makes it a Spitfire for sure, lolmoron.


F34nor (321515) | more than 3 years ago | (#36937160)

It has wings like the de havilland mosquito according to TFA

was the "miniture autopilot" also printed? (0)

kotku (249450) | more than 3 years ago | (#36934528)

Or did they just go CORD and use a legislation man

fracking autocomplete....COTS (0)

kotku (249450) | more than 3 years ago | (#36934534)

Or did they just go CORD and use a legislation man

also "lego man" total fail. mod me down (0)

kotku (249450) | more than 3 years ago | (#36934554)

Or did they just go CORD and use a legislation man

Re:was the "miniture autopilot" also printed? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36941238)

No. They printed the structure. This is much like all the "my 3d printer printed another 3d printer!" articles. They print everything except for the important, expensive stuff. Which is most of the thing.

"You wouldn't download a car" (5, Funny)

supertrinko (1396985) | more than 3 years ago | (#36934564)

Well I guess soon you will.

Re:"You wouldn't download a car" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36934594)

And it'll be a flying car, too! Take that, record industry!

You're watching the pre-garage moments (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 3 years ago | (#36935112)

Next big paradigm shift.


Chromoly graphite plasma-welded firearms. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36936450)

I can't wait for my printer to extrude the rudementary parts of various firearms to plasma-temper into solid components for assembly.

Now I'll be able to protect my own property, without help of the police liquidating my assets as payment for their ongoing war against tourism and paper-tourists like meh.

Re:"You wouldn't download a car" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36936788)

Not in the usa you won't.

How many keystone kopyright kops has the current administration appointed or hired?

Exactly. Thats going to be our next big 'war on' thing. The war on piracy. Both digital and physical items.

And it'll be won just as fast as the war on drugs, terrorisim, poverty, homelessness, and whatever other silly shit we've declared war on over the last two decades.
That giant sucking sound you hear is your tax money going to the kopyright kops.

Re:"You wouldn't download a car" (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 3 years ago | (#36937128)

And get ready for the screwiness of copyright law to come into play.

It's already happened, with groups doing DMCA notifications on sites containing 3D shape files. []

I wonder what the wrapper on the Apple iPrinter3D will have. "Please don't steal... " ...? (Like how the iPods all say "please don't steal music").

Copyfight! (4, Interesting)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 3 years ago | (#36934582)

You know those anti-piracy "ads" that say something like, "You wouldn't steal a car, would you?"

I always though the obvious response was, "No, but if I could download a car and print it out for free, I sure would!"

Looks like that day is getting pretty close.

Re:Copyfight! (3, Insightful)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 3 years ago | (#36934776)

Am I the only one who gets the urge to steal a car when I see those ads? I mean, the whole "Gone In 60 Seconds" style of that ad kind of glamorizes all sorts of bad stuff. You might even be able to legitimately argue that those ads drove you to steal someone's handbag.... Besides, if brutally ripping a purse away from some elderly lady is no worse than pirating a DVD off the Internet, then we might as well all rape and pillage. After all, it's all the same level of wrong.

Nothing sane or rational can come of that ad. Just saying.

Re:Copyfight! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36935160)

Considering all of the costs they (RIAA +MPAA) have imposed on other people by preventing works from entering the public domain according to the rules when the works were created, removing some works from the public domain and getting rules for anti-circumvention that have not been effective against real piracy, but have been used to break interoperability and have raised the costs of consumer electronics by bribing public officials and block fair uses of material, their complaints about people not paying them money some of the time doesn't deserve any sympathy.

Re:Copyfight! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36936062)

.torrent or it didn't happen (.stl format preferred).

Re:Copyfight! (1)

Phoghat (1288088) | more than 3 years ago | (#36939928)

I definitely agree !

It also seems to me that the Southampton Engineers have been reading Doctorow's "Makers" [] and taking it to heart, as we all should.

Miniature autopilot? (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#36934600)

Ze plane! Ze plane!

Re:Miniature autopilot? (1)

PenisLands (930247) | more than 3 years ago | (#36934722)

I bet you think that's well worth a '5+ funny', don't you? Don't you? You are a real fucking cocker, you probably have a really small COCK.

Video (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36934706)

More details and video here:

Re:Video (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 3 years ago | (#36934830)

To me it looks like an APC prop on it.

I'd be very impressed if they could print a propeller.

Re:Video (2)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | more than 3 years ago | (#36934894)

should be able to. Shapeways says that they have printed turbines for mini jet engines for customers (from stainless steel) which work, so i can't see why they could not print your basic propeller.

Re:Video (2)

HiThere (15173) | more than 3 years ago | (#36940708)

The printer that they (University of South Hampton) used basically prints nylon, and also a bit of metal. I doubt that means it can print stainless steel.

OTOH, nylon might well be good enough for the propeller on a plane that small.

Re:Video (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 3 years ago | (#36965970)

As a general rule, as prop size goes down, RPM goes up. Tip speed is fairly constant. I can hear the video and guess about 18-20 kRPM. (I should get out the tach but I am lazy)

At the cheap end of the RC prop market you see lots of injection molded fiberglass reinforced nylon.

Like I said, it looks like an APC prop to me (they have a funny hub transition). You can get a decent look at 1:11 in the video. If it isn't an APC prop it's a copy (either one they made of bought from China). Not a naive design. More then a week in that alone.

This is the reason .. (2)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 3 years ago | (#36934720)

I come to /. to read stories. This is the first one in a long while where I can genuinely say "Wow .. I'm impressed", both with the topic itself, and TFA that was clear, concise and not someones link spam blog.

Re:This is the reason .. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36935380)

And not one mention of bitcoin! Oh wait, maybe that's what you have to use to buy the plans...

Re:This is the reason .. (2)

Eunuchswear (210685) | more than 3 years ago | (#36939048)

bitcoin is to slashdot what gold was to Glen Beck.

Most Interseting part (3, Interesting)

DadLeopard (1290796) | more than 3 years ago | (#36934738)

Looking at the post about the RC Group and checking out the article and following up on Geodetic Structure, it seems to me that the ability to use a geodetic structure approach, makes this plane a whole lot better, in a way that can't easily be done by any other method. It's lighter and stronger that the normal spars and ribs used normally! It even looks like the geodetic structure is integral with the skin! Though if the wings were made all in one piece, I bet they had a tough time hooking up the linkages for the control surfaces.

Re:Most Interseting part (3, Interesting)

fikx (704101) | more than 3 years ago | (#36934818)

Along the same lines, does making them from one piece make them harder to fix when you crack one up? you'd have to replace the whole body I would imagine...

Re:Most Interseting part (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36935438)

Probably not. Its pretty rare that a small plane will split at a glue joint, unless the joint is mechanically weak. The glue is usually stronger than the material. Usually you get a few cracked ribs, maybe a cracked spar. Fuselages are already made from either plywood slabs or rib/stringers. All of that is going to break somewhere, most likely away from a joint.

When you move on from traditional wood construction to composites, all bets are off. If you crash, its going to end up in pieces. Small dents and cracks can be dealt with, but that thats usually not what you end up with if you fly into trees or the ground at any appreciable velocity.

Re:Most Interseting part (1)

RespekMyAthorati (798091) | more than 3 years ago | (#36934918)

This is going to lead to all kinds of applications for geodetic structures in places where they haven't been used before, such as cars and buildings.
All you would need is a really big printer: Large-scale 3D printer. []

Now if they could also print the engines...

Re:Most Interseting part (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 3 years ago | (#36936454)

This is my first time coming across the term "geodetic" - and my searching keeps pointing to these guys [] . The context doesn't fit. What are you talking about?

Re:Most Interseting part (2)

voidphoenix (710468) | more than 3 years ago | (#36936942)

It more commonly referred to as Geodesic [] , as in Geodesic Domes [] . Apparently, the term "geodetic" is used as a synonym when referring specifically to airframes [] .

Re:Most Interseting part (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36938198)

Though if the wings were made all in one piece, I bet they had a tough time hooking up the linkages for the control surfaces.

New Scientist video, 0:55 []

Re:Most Interseting part (2)

Old Sparky (675061) | more than 3 years ago | (#36938586)

Bucky Fuller RULES!!!

More details and video (2)

adam7556 (2425408) | more than 3 years ago | (#36934816)

More details and video here []

Re:More details and video (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#36934922)

From those images, it really looks like propulsion is via a rubber-band powered propeller. The future of flight!

Re:More details and video (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36935428)

From that link: It would be electric-motor-powered to eliminate the need for starting equipment and heavy fuel.

Because we all know that fuel is heavier than batteries. D'oh!

Re:More details and video (1)

Savantissimo (893682) | more than 3 years ago | (#36935820)

I stopped reading after this bit of idiocy:
"It would be electric-motor-powered to eliminate the need for starting equipment and heavy fuel."

(Oh, batteries have more energy density than gas now?)

New formula for Napalm (2)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 3 years ago | (#36935880)

Take 1 printed RC plane, add fuel.

Re:More details and video (2)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#36936350)

(Oh, batteries have more energy density than gas now?)

Batteries+motor+rc probably weighs less than fuel+tank+engine+throttle_servo+battery+rc, especially at that size. Lots of small hobby planes and helicopters are battery powered these days.

Mass Production (1)

Required Snark (1702878) | more than 3 years ago | (#36934846)

I wonder how this scales to a mass production environment. The article points out that they want to try design features that are not cost effective for traditional manufacturing technology.

Suppose that they create a design that uses some features that cannot be easily translated to normal manufacturing. Could they still move it to market using the prototype manufacturing technology, or would it just be too expensive?

Re:Mass Production (3, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#36935274)

Depends on what the market wants. Compared to the cost/unit of a high volume injection molding setup, the cost of a plastic laser sintered part is going to be downright sickening(the manufacturer [] doesn't list prices; but that typically means you don't want to know. 2x 50watt lasers, precision optics, control widgetry, etc. isn't going to be inexpensive, and such devices are not all that fast. Fast if you just count time from CAD to first part? Definitely. Fast per part? Not at all...) However, if the air force just has to have 15% more loiter time or whatever, they might be willing to put up with it.

Especially for something like UAVs, though, where small size and autonomous cheapness are usually the selling points, "20% better, 20x the price!" is going to have some trouble competing with "almost as good, and you can order spares by the container-load for barely more than the cost of plastics and just saturate the area!"

Re:Mass Production (3, Interesting)

bcmm (768152) | more than 3 years ago | (#36935630)

Or maybe building the entire airframe out of it is a gimmick intended to demonstrate the capabilities of the technology, but laser sintering will make sense as just another manufacturing technique, used for those parts it applies best to. For example, the press release claims that eliptical wings are very difficult and expensive to manufacture, so perhaps it would be economical to attach printed wings to an otherwise conventionally-built aircraft.

Re:Mass Production (1)

HiThere (15173) | more than 3 years ago | (#36940766)

So what you do is concentrate on making the printers cheaper and better, and then sell lots of printers, so people can print up what they want on an "as needed" basis. This saves warehousing, inventory, etc.

For something large, printing it on site saves shipping...though of course you do need to ship the printer, and it needs to traverse the site.

I expect that eventually, if the technology is successful, there will be a variety of different printers for special purposes, and a few general models for home use. But you need some way to recycle the things you aren't using anymore back into raw feedstock. (Tricky, but maybe no trickier than the original printer.)

How much (1)

rossdee (243626) | more than 3 years ago | (#36935012)

How much does the printer cost (and the ink cartridges)

Terrorist Device (3, Insightful)

dpilot (134227) | more than 3 years ago | (#36935260)

So how long before 3d printers are illegal? I'm sure stuff like the rap rep, or whatever it's called will continue to be OK. But the truly nifty stuff, the ones that can make a drone or other truly "interesting" things?

I'd expect the 3d printer technology to get "capped" at something below the level of TFA. It'll be in the name of "stopping terrorism", but behind the scenes there'll be some terrified parties in the commercial sector that don't want their profit models rendered obsolete.

For the Sci-Fi example, read Joe Haldeman's "The Forever Peace" and pay special attention to the "nano-forge" the the corrupt BS surrounding that.

Re:Terrorist Device (1)

Gazoogleheimer (1466831) | more than 3 years ago | (#36935746)

Doubtful. Highly doubtful. 3d printers are faster than their traditional manufacturing coutnerparts in some applications, but they don't allow you to manufacture anything you couldn't before. Other than that, the idea (while fittingly /. tinfoil-hatty) seems absurd.

Re:Terrorist Device (3, Insightful)

fluffy99 (870997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36936152)

Actually the whole point is that you CAN manufacture things you could not before. For example the internal structures of the wings. It's possible for instance with traditional mold&glue techniques to create a complex honeycomb pattern inside the wings, etc. Sure you could press out a zillion little internal pieces and build it up, but that's not practical and the result would be weaker and heavier.

Re:Terrorist Device (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36937002)

At the risk of citing Art Bell as a reference, this brings back memories of listening to Coast to Coast AM:

Actually the whole point is that you CAN manufacture things you could not before. For example the internal structures of the wings. It's possible for instance with traditional mold&glue techniques to create a complex honeycomb pattern inside the wings, etc.

Art Bell had what he called "Art's Parts", pieces of metal that people had sent him while claiming that they came from extraterrestrial spacecraft crash sites. He said he had people look at them, and some of them had an intricate patterned structure or had different metals layered in a way that would be difficult to do with 1990s technology. Some form of 3-D printing with metals instead of plastics could do it. Apparently the space aliens hadn't invented plastic yet.

Art's Parts were probably just random chunks of metal but that was fun to think about.

Re:Terrorist Device (1)

dpilot (134227) | more than 3 years ago | (#36938174)

The difference is that you can make some of these things with no specialized equipment other than the 3d printer. In other words, for real-world-things you can now "look it up on the internet." It lowers the bar.

Any tinfoil hat I may wear is nothing compared to what some in DC may have. (Or maybe I saw too much of Colonel Flag in "MASH".) Besides, I suggested that behind the scenes there are commercial interests seeing the troubles of the RIAA and MPAA and would just as soon never see the physical world get there.

thank god... (1)

Sfing_ter (99478) | more than 3 years ago | (#36935456)

Whew... at first I thought it said EPSON and that would surely fail...

Shapeways! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36936054)

Pff, On Shapeways several hobbyists have already done that or way cooler stuff, quadrocopters and what not.

I've got a Makerbot Thing-O-Matic... (1)

DryGrian (1775520) | more than 3 years ago | (#36936184)

Are the files needed to print one of these up on Thingiverse yet?

Skunk Works did this years ago (2)

aeropreneur (1101339) | more than 3 years ago | (#36936316)

This is hardly new. I wrote about the P-175 Polecat UAV 5 years ago. Lockheed-Martin's famous Skunk Works used 3D printing to fabricate most of the airframe [] and []

Skynet. (1)

Albert Sandberg (315235) | more than 3 years ago | (#36936540)

Just wait until skynet gets ahold of these machines.

How big can this go? (2)

sunfly (1248694) | more than 3 years ago | (#36937304)

What are the limits on this technology? Most 2-4 person planes are very low volume, making tooling very expensive. Could this reduce the cost and complexity of a kit aircraft, while making the design much more elegant aerodynamically? (yes... proud EAA member here, just back from Oshkosh!)

Re:How big can this go? (2)

HiThere (15173) | more than 3 years ago | (#36940878)

There are two basic constraints (besides costs). One is the strength of the materials. The printer used by the University of South Hampton uses nylon as it's structural material. That's pretty good, but not excellent. The other is the size of piece that the printer can print. IIRC the University of South Hampton printer can only handle things up to a meter long.

Note that these aren't intrinsic limits. There exist printers that can print titanium. I don't really know the strength of the material printed, but I suspect it's rather good. But these aren't nano-manipulators, much less assemblers. They have most of the traditional limitations, with some new ones, and a couple removed. Think of spraying concrete on a really small scale, using different colors of concrete. Well, some printers can print electrically conductive traces as well as insulators, so that's not a terribly accurate image. And different printers use slightly different approaches. Some use UV light to condense plastic out of a bath of polymer. Others spray particles like an ink-jet printer, and then use lasers to fix the stuff in place, like a traditional laser printer. And they can handle different kinds of "particles". There's one that actually *does* spray concrete, and can handle fairly large shapes. Etc.

Don't expect this approach to yield a human rated plane in the next 5 years. Probably not in the next decade. But it can do lots of other things.

Video (2)

7-Vodka (195504) | more than 3 years ago | (#36937598)

Video here:

Clicky []

almost there but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36937792)

can you print a parachute too?

Shock horror! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36938224)

Prototype built using rapid prototyping!

"Can be..." (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36938656)

Wake me up when "it is".

strong stuff (1)

hackertourist (2202674) | more than 3 years ago | (#36938798)

IMO the big news is that the printed parts are strong enough to do this. The printing processes I've seen so far result in parts that are too brittle to serve as anything except decoration or as mould masters.

abbreviations (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#36941884)

Don't just throw an abbreviation such as UAV out there, without putting its words in parenthesis (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). UAV can also stand for other things, like Upper Atmospheric Vehicle. Most TLA (three letter acronyms) are overloaded (TLA also means Two Letter Acronym)
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