The world’s first jet-powered, 3D printed UAV delivered in record time

Written by: Tom Austin-Morgan | Published:

Stratasys has teamed up with Aurora Flight Sciences to deliver, what is believed to be, the largest, fastest, and most complex 3D printed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) ever produced. The aircraft is built using lightweight Stratasys materials and can achieve speeds in excess of 150mph.

80% of the UAV, which has a wingspan of 3m and weighs 15kg, used 3D printing technology that cut the design and manufacturing time by 50%.

According to Dan Campbell, aerospace research engineer at Aurora Flight Sciences, the project achieved various targets: “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.”

“This is a perfect demonstration of the unique capabilities that additive manufacturing can bring to aerospace,” said Scott Sevcik, business development manager, Vertical Solutions at Stratasys. “This meant using different 3D printing materials and technologies together on one aircraft to maximise the benefits of additive manufacturing and 3D print both lightweight and capable structural components.”

For Aurora, Stratasys’ additive manufacturing solutions provided the design-optimisation to produce a stiff, lightweight structure without the common restrictions of traditional manufacturing methods. This also enabled the cost-effective development of a customised vehicle without the cost constraints of low-volume production.

“Stratasys 3D printing technology easily supports rapid design iterations that led to a dramatically shortened timeline from the initial concept to the first successful flight,” adds Campbell.

According to Sevcik, the project exemplifies the power of Stratasys’ flagship Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) 3D printing technology.

“Aurora’s UAV is a 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.

As well as using FDM materials for the large structural elements of the build, Stratasys laser sintered the nylon fuel tank and the thrust vectoring exhaust nozzle was 3D printed in metal to withstand the extreme heat at the engine nozzle.

“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,” Sevcik continued.

For Sevcik, this particular collaborative project with Aurora achieves one of the foremost overall goals among aerospace manufacturers, as well as those in other industries, which is the need to constantly reduce weight which in turn lowers operational cost.


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