A team of UK aeronautics engineers have successfully flown the first aircraft made entirely with 3D printing. Called the Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft, or SULSA, the unmanned RC aircraft aims to show that complex flying machines can be crafted quickly using this new fabrication process. Indeed, less than a week prior to its launch, the SULSA was nothing more than a pile of plastic dust.
Because it was crafted using 3D printing, the SULSA has several advanced design features usually too expensive or difficult in aircraft production. In this case, the SULSA has the low-drag elliptical wings that gave the WW2-era Spitfire its high maneuverability — wings which were notoriously hard to make. The plane also has a geodesic internal structure, taken from another WW2 plane: The Vickers Wellington bomber. These concentric supports give the SULSA a similar robustness to the Vickers Wellington, which was well-loved for its ability to withstand anti-aircraft fire.
But the SULSA is far more than a trip down memory lane for aircraft designers. The Southampton team has demonstrated that an advanced aircraft can be designed and built very quickly using a 3D printer. It’s their hope that the successful flight of the SULSA will demonstrate the maturity of the fabrication technology, and pave the way for UAVs that can be tweaked and redesigned quickly for different missions or conditions.
Be sure to read on below for a video of the SULSA’s maiden flight.