Maiden flight of world's largest 3d printed plane


I know posting about 3D printed planes on here usually results in 50 comments of people saying "give me some cardboard and packing tape and i could build something better in an hour..." so I would like to preface this with saying that this was an academic exercise and the vision for the future is that you could upload your mission requirements to an interface, some software would design an airplane optimized for your mission, and then a printer would print it, all without a human in the loop. So, yes, I understand the practicality implications, but I think this is a very interesting exercise.

That being said... we finally got our plane to fly! The aircraft was designed by a group of students from Purdue University, Brigham-Young University, and Georgia Tech during the last academic year but it was never flown before the students graduated. An attempt was made but the motor ingested some gravel and blew neodymium chunks everywhere. I upgraded the propulsion system, modified the control surfaces (they used to be printed but they were very delicate) and that's about it. For this flight, I took out the ardupilot and just flew it manually.

Video of the flight here

All up weight with batteries was 12.000 lbs. Span is 8', and I can dig up area and wing loading and all that stuff. Flew it off 2 5S 5000mAh batteries ganged together to make 10S. 16x12 prop.'

Aircraft is almost entirely FDM, made on a fortus machine. There is a carbon fiber spar running down the wing and the control surfaces are foam. Other than that, everything you see is ABS.

Very wiggly in yaw, which was surprising as the scale model we flew last year was fine. Could be the fancy winglet design.

As you can see from the video, the landing was on the hot side, but the structure held up impeccably. There are sacrificial landing skids that did their job and broke on impact and we can just pop new ones in to fly again.

All in all, I'm overjoyed it finally flew! It's been quite a few months since the last attempt.


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  • Well argued, sir.

    The aim of this site is to exchange information (obviously), but I think that the ultimate goal is to exchange and propagate ideas, and so it is good to see a logical presentation of your reasoning for doing what your doing. Especially when you and your team seem to have taken a conceptual jump into the future. Nice.

  • I mostly agree with you, Ned, but I think that carbon fiber, or even fiberglass, is usually overkill for aircraft of these sizes. Structural overdesign means you are compromising elsewhere, usually on endurance. 

    I would also take issue with the "really slow" part of your comment. The assembly time for this aircraft was measured in hours. For a similar sized aircraft made out of carbon fiber, even if you already had the molds, it would take many times longer to put the whole thing together (and I won't even count cure time against you!) We were able to go from CAD to parts with no touch labor, which is the real key here. 

    If we just avoided additive manufacturing as a possible way of making airplanes, we wouldn't learn the nuances and techniques to be competitive when, inevitably, the speeds go up, the material properties get better, and the resolution gets finer. 

    and as to the mass production comment, that's really the crux of the matter. the role we see this filling is not for churning out thousands of identical aircraft but specially customized, one-off, optimized aircraft for specific customers with specific missions. everybody has a different mission, a different payload, and different operational requirements so the small UAV market is rarely "one size fits all". we're really trying to explore the design space of completely digital fabrication processes to give us more freedom to design better solutions.

    plus, its fun.

  • I think the trick is to use the technology where it's appropriate. ATM it's really slow and the strength is not exactly up to carbon fiber atandards, so it's great for prototypes but perhaps not so good for mass production.
  • "Although the 2Seas is an awesome 3D printed design, it’s not entirely original.  It’s based upon the world’s first 3D printed drone, the Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft (SULSA). While the 1 meter wing span SULSA was a completely 3D printed aircraft, the 2Seas’ 4 meter wingspan required it to be outfitted with carbon fiber wings and a tail. Never the less, the 2Seas’ main wing box, fuel tank and engine mounting were all 3D printed."

  • I've seen that one before, as well, Ben. I believe most of the ones from Southampton are actually a mixture of conventional materials as well as FDM. SULSA was entirely SLS Nylon but I think the larger ones are a combination of materials. I don't think the wings on that one are printed. We have a few people on DIYD associated with them so maybe they could chime in?

  • While this is pretty cool I don't think it is very credible that this is the world's largest.

    In fact sorry but just googled this 13ft wingspan one

    2SEAS Project
  • Hi, Eli, i printed the fuselage on a homemade delta FDM most parts single line .4mm only the cores are 2lines and the spars that go into the wings are 2lines  and 7%infill hole fuselage weighs 135grams(4.76 ounces) (including glue).

    The picture of the vase is just to show a single line print ;)


  • wow, Christoph, that looks great! What did you use to print the fuselage? it looks awesome!

    I didn't realize the dolly idea was new to some people. I've seen it done a lot before...

    and, more amusingly,

  • Moderator

    nice job!  and interesting launcher too...

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