3D Printed Plane Takes Off

3D Printed Plane Takes Off

Here’s an interesting story out of the University of Virginia, where engineering students used 3D printing technology to create an RC aircraft:

3D printers are already being used to create machine parts and small toys, but engineers have now used the technology to build an entire vehicle: a plastic, unmanned airplane that actually flies. The plane, created by engineering students at the University of Virginia (U.Va.), has a 6.5-foot wingspan, and was made from assembled printed parts.

The team tested their creation during four flights in August and early September at Milton Airfield near Keswick, Va. The aircraft, which is only the third 3D-printed plane known to have been built and flown, achieved a cruising speed of 45mph.

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3D printing is already proving to be a valuable tool in teaching students, said David Sheffler, an engineer at U.Va. who worked with students Steven Easter and Jonathan Turman to create the aircraft. “To make a plastic turbofan engine to scale five years ago would have taken two years, at a cost of about $250,000,” Sheffler said in a statement. “But with 3D printing we designed and built it in four months for about $2,000. This opens up an arena of teaching that was not available before. It allows us to train engineers for the real challenges they will face in industry.”


Updated: October 23, 2012 — 3:30 PM


  1. finally something that looks sensible for 3 d printing
    things have to be light, cost is no object, and sometimes not that strong

    (tired of reading about the 3d bicycle with plastic wheel bearings that would last 2 miles)


  2. As 3-D printing starts to become more mainstream, and it will, as there are already several affordable consumer models available, I can see the future of R/C building becoming “downloadable” – You simply purchase the model you want, download the CAD file of the model, print it, install your electronics, and fly! Maybe people will even offer “open source” plans. How cool would that be?!?

  3. This is crap. Sorry. I would feel different if the end results weren’t VERY heavy. This isn’t the Pre’ 20s. This plane is pathetic. It is only used as a proof of concept involving the 3D printers. It also shows the absolute and complete ignorance of researchers as to what is already available. Reinventing the wheel for the 10^10 time gets boring. Sorry. Those of us who understand whats going on can’t understand why the rest of you don’t.

  4. Gman518, I agree with you. That will happen with-in the next 10-15 years. I had thought about doing this but have been scared because I don’t know a lot about the 3d printers, I wanted to let someone else try it first lol. Now that it’s been done I’m sure the it will start to take off.

  5. When my former company started using 3D printing not too many years ago, the results were often so flimsy, if accurate, they almost had to be saturated with a binder to be able to be handled. When I left the company 3 years ago, you could actually bolt prototype items to a chassis using regular bolts and nuts. You could even have motorized components in printed cutaways for industry show and tells. You’ve come a long way, baby.

  6. I have just finished mounting my 3d printer kit. I don’t think I will be doing complete aeroplanes, but many parts, sure: cones, scale details, like exhausts, cilinders, servo traiys, plastic ribs, …
    I see potential in the technology, and not only for bespoke parts. If you look in Thingyverse.com, you will see that there starts to be a number of CAD plans for RC freely available for you to pring.

  7. I would like to know the finished weight of these models and the effects of nitro on the material.

  8. First plastic, then aluminum, carbon fiber, etc. Then parts for a full scale aircraft and the ability to print parts in any scale from the same data files. A quarter scale cub with the exact same parts as a full size cub. Of course some scaled down parts would be too weak so a strength modification would have to be considered.

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