The DimensionNext blog reports on a cool new UVA research project. Excerpt

When Mitre Corporation, a McLean-based defense contractor announced that they were looking for summer interns, University of Virginia engineering student Steven Easter and his brother and lab partner, Jonathan Turman applied the job. They got the assignment: to build an unmanned aerial vehicle, using 3DPrinting technology.

Luckily they got support from Professor David Sheffler, a 20-year veteran in aerospace engineering. Between May and August the team has been working on designing and building a plane entirely from parts from a 3DPrinter.

The plane has a 2 metre wingspan and all the parts were printed in layers in plastic. During four test flights in August and early September at Milton Airfield near Keswick, the plane achieved a cruising speed of 70 kilometers per hour.

This is what it looks like covered:

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Developer
Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on October 19, 2012 at 12:44pm

Again, this is so awesome!  Good looking plane.  Well, it has the appearance of a traditional built-up balsa construction, but with much less work!  I can see the joins in the wing panel, appears to have been built out of 4 sections.  If they're smart, there's a carbon fiber tube wing spar stuck in there somewhere.

Comment by Harry on October 19, 2012 at 1:35pm

Looks like a Sig Seniorita, a great flying plane.  They printed a good one. 

Comment by Andrew Rabbitt on October 19, 2012 at 2:11pm

I would love to know how this airframe compares weight-wise with an equivalent built-up balsa, GRP or foam aircraft of similar dimensions.

A fascinating project and congratulations to the team, but in my opinion, 3D printing technologies are better used to make the mould surfaces for an EPU airframe. If they are listening, I'd love to offer an airframe design for testing out this idea... :)


Developer
Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on October 19, 2012 at 3:17pm

I think, if engineered properly*, then 3D printing is a viable alternative to balsa, and probably far superior to foam.

*Very hard to do.  Not going to do it without proper design and FEA.  But from what I can see, I'd guess they've done that.

Comment by Patrick L on October 19, 2012 at 4:23pm
They also didn't use the capabilities of 3D printers to create complex structures that cannot be practically otherwise. I mean, it should be possible to design and print an optimal trellis instead of the traditional solid rib and spar structure.

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