Researchers at the University of Southampton designed and built this airplane in about a week. A week. Each component, from the wings to the tail were created with a laser beam melting and fusing plastic powder into specifications of their computer models. If they wanted to substitute in a different design—one nose structure versus another—they simply had to reprint it.
“The novel aspect of the structure is that its completely fastner free,” says Jim Scanlon, one of the principal researchers. “There are no subsequent assembly operations.”
The moving parts are all printed together, shortening creation and assembly time. Scanlon shows how the nosecone of the plane utilizes a complex design that dates as far back as World War II. The issue with using the structure has always been that creating it, with its intricate weavings and support beams, has been too costly. With 3D printing those intricate structures within the nose can be printed at once, integrated and without needing assembly or separate fitted parts.
On its maiden voyage the craft stayed in the air for over ten minutes while sounding vaguely like a broken vacuum cleaner. Even still, it really has some zip once it gets going.