3D printing is a fantastic technology that has already been used to create human veins and turn sand into glass. Now a team from the University of Southampton has created the world’s first 3d printed plane – and it just made its first flight this week at a site north of Stonehenge! Costing £5,000, the 3D printed plane (dubbed “Sulsa” – Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft) was designed with no undercarriage in order to keep weight down and it is equipped with a electric-motor to eliminate the need for heavy fuel.

world's first 3d printed plane, university of southampton 3d printed plane, university of southampton sulsa, 3d printed plane, sulsa 3d plane, sulsa printed plane maiden flight

The UK-based team led by Andy Keane and Jim Scanlan believes that 3D printing could revolutionize the economics of aircraft design – an entire unmanned plane could be printed and constructed in a couple of days. They believe that 3D printers could leave assembly lines in the dust while allowing for fine-tuning without the need for great expense. 3D printing also allows the creation of bespoke aircraft that can be used for numerous purposes such as search & resuce, crop dusting, and military surveillance.

3D printers use laser-assisted machines to create plastic or metal objects by building the item layer by layer, with each slice measuring a mere 100 micrometres thick. The printer breaks up an object’s computerized design into hundreds of easily printable layers and then prints them by focusing a laser beam on a bed of polyamide plastic, stainless steel, or titanium powder. The heat of the laser then fuses the particles together at their boundaries. As each layer is completed, the process is repeated until a complete plane is created. This allows aircraft designers to “explore the mathematics of airflow without being forced to put in straight lines to keep costs down.”

The UK-based team designed a 1.5-metre-wingspan, super-low-drag UAV. The prototype was printed on hard nylon printing firm 3T RPD of Greenham Common, Berkshire

“We designed in printable hinges that would let the ailerons move,” says 3T RPD spokesman Stuart Offer. “And we decided where to split the fuselage so the nose could be snap-jointed to the fuselage easily.” As a result, the plane was able to be assembled in minutes.

But the main question is how does it fly? Well, click here to see the maiden flight of the world’s first 3D printed plane.

+ University of Southampton

via New Scientist