It seems 3D printing technology is really taking off. Students at the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science have printed out an airplane that actually flies.
But don’t get your boarding passes out just yet. The printed plane has a wingspan of just 6.5 feet and a top cruising speed of 45 mph. All the parts were created by 3D printers and then assembled. The craft survived four test flights, boding well for one of the backers of the project, the US Army, who is hoping to one day use 3D print technology to make this airplane’s big brother.
“To make a plastic turbofan engine to scale five years ago would have taken two years, at a cost of about $250,000,” engineer David Sheffler, an adviser on the project, said in a statement. “But with 3D printing we designed and built it in four months for about $2,000.”
3D printers “print” objects based on a detailed drawing or scan. The printed object is traced out and built up, layer by layer, in melted plastic until it matches the size and dimensions of the desired item.
So far, 3D printers have boasted the ability to create whatever you imagine, just so long as what you imagine is smallish and can be made of plastic. But that’s changing rapidly. Airbus is exploring building full-size airplanes with 3D printers. Such a printer would need to be nearly 300 feet by 300 feet, but it’s feasible. Surgeons have already implanted the first 3D printed jaw, and researchers think they may soon be able to print you a new liver using sugar as a building material.
This printed plane isn’t the first ambitious project the University of Virginia’s 3D printers have taken on. Check out their 3D printed jet engine below.
Photos and Video via University of Virginia