The future of aircraft was on display at the Dubai air show, but not on the tarmac. Tucked away in a corner of the exhibition hall was what is thought to be the world’s first 3D-printed drone.
The sleek aircraft has a 3m wingspan and is 80 per cent printed, the exceptions being the jet engine, avionics and landing gear. Made of lightweight plastic and a highly heat-resistant printed metal, the aircraft can fly at more than 150 miles per hour for up to seven minutes.
The drone was the brainchild of Stratasys, a 3D printing company, and Aurora Flight Sciences, a manufacturer of unmanned aerial vehicles, and went from concept to flight in the Utah desert in less than a year.
“A primary goal for us was to show the aerospace industry just how quickly you can go from designing to building to flying a 3D-printed jet-powered aircraft,” said Dan Campbell, aerospace research engineer at Aurora Flight Sciences.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest, fastest, and most complex 3D-printed UAV ever produced.”
Jay Shelby, the Stratasys engineer who assembled the drone, said that while it took him one month to build the prototype, lessons had been learned that would allow the process to be done much more quickly and which could be applied to aerospace manufacturing. “Now I could assemble one in two weeks,” he said.
Aircraft makers are increasingly using additive manufacturing to help reduce the weight and cost of jet production. Airbus has used printed parts on its A350 widebody passenger jet while Boeing is using additive manufacturing for components on 10 different aircraft.
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