Stratasys Ltd., a 3D printing and additive manufacturing solutions company, has teamed with Aurora Flight Sciences to deliver what it says is the first jet-powered, 3D-printed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
Unveiled at the Dubai Airshow, the high-speed aircraft is built using lightweight Stratasys materials and can achieve speeds in excess of 150 mph. The UAV, with a 3 m (9 ft.) wingspan and weight of 15 kg (33 lb.), leveraged 3D printing for 80% of its design and manufacturing.
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. To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest, fastest and most complex 3D-printed UAV ever produced,” he explains.
“This is a perfect demonstration of the unique capabilities that additive manufacturing can bring to aerospace,” adds Scott Sevcik, aerospace and defense senior business development manager of vertical solutions at Stratasys. “This meant using different 3D-printing materials and technologies together on one aircraft to maximize the benefits of additive manufacturing and 3D print both lightweight and capable structural components.”
For Aurora, Stratasys’ additive manufacturing solutions provided the design optimization to produce a stiff, lightweight structure without the common restrictions of traditional manufacturing methods. This also enabled the cost-effective development of a customized – or mission-specific – 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,” says Campbell. “Overall, the technology saw us cut the design and build time of the aircraft by 50 percent.”