3D-printed drone takes flight, sets speed record

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's . . . the world's first jet-powered, 3D-printed drone! What may be the world's largest and fastest 3D-printed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) debuted at the Dubai Airshow this week. The drone is the result of a collaboration between 3D-printing technology company Stratasys Ltd. (Minneapolis) and Aurora Flight Sciences (Manassas, VA), which develops and manufactures advanced aerospace vehicles. A video embedded below shows the UAV in flight.

3D printed droneThe aircraft reportedly achieves speeds in excess of 150 mph, but equally remarkable is the accelerated design and build time, which was reduced by 50% using Stratasys' 3D-printing technology, according to Aurora Flight Sciences. "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. "To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest, fastest, and most complex 3D-printed UAV ever produced."

3D printing was the enabling technology for 80% of the design and manufacture of the UAV, which has a 9-foot wingspan and weighs only 33 pounds. Various 3D-printing materials and technologies were used to maximize the benefits of additive manufacturing and to 3D print both lightweight and structural components, explained Scott Sevcik, Aerospace & Defense Senior Business Development Manager, Vertical Solutions, at Stratasys.

Added Sevcik, the project exemplifies the power of Stratasys' flagship Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D-printing technology. "Aurora's UAV is clear evidence of FDM's ability to build a completely enclosed, hollow structure which, unlike other manufacturing methods, allows large—yet less dense—objects to be produced," he explained in a prepared statement.

"In addition to leveraging FDM materials for all large and structural elements, we utilized the diverse production capability of Stratasys Direct Manufacturing to produce components better suited to other technologies," said Sevcik. "We elected to laser sinter the nylon fuel tank, and our thrust vectoring exhaust nozzle was 3D printed in metal to withstand the extreme heat at the engine nozzle," Sevcik added.

"Because Stratasys is able to produce parts that meet the flame, smoke, and toxicity requirements set by the FAA, Ultem has become the 3D-printing material of choice for many of our aerospace customers for final production applications," said Sevcik.

 

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