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First 3-D ‘Printed’ Aircraft Flown

Photonics.com
Jul 2011
SOUTHAMPTON, England, July 29, 2011 — A nylon laser sintering machine has been used for the first time to fabricate and “print” the entire structure of an unmanned air vehicle (UAV), including its wings, integral control surface and access hatches.

The Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft (Sulsa) UAV plane was printed on an EOS EOSINT P730 nylon laser sintering machine, which fabricates plastic or metal objects, building up the item layer by layer.


Sulsa is the world's first "printed" aircraft. (Image: University of Southampton)

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 two-meter wingspan, has a top speed of nearly 100 miles per hour, but when it is in cruise mode, it is almost silent. The aircraft is also equipped with a miniature autopilot developed by Dr. Matt Bennett, a member of the team.

Laser sintering allows the designer to create shapes and structures that normally would involve costly traditional manufacturing techniques. This technology allows a highly tailored aircraft to be developed from concept to first flight in days. Using conventional manufacturing techniques and materials, such as composites, this would normally take months. Furthermore, because no tooling is required for manufacture, radical changes to the shape and scale of the aircraft can be made with no extra cost.

This project has been led by professors Andy Keane and Jim Scanlan from the university’s Computational Engineering and Design Research group.

For more information, visit: www.soton.ac.uk  


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