Student engineers design, build, fly ‘printed’ airplane

October 23, 2012

The unmanned aerial vehicle, “dressed” in U.Va.’s colors. The plane was built entirely from parts from a 3-D printer. (Credit: University of Virginia)

The MITRE Corporation hired two University of Virginia engineeering students to build an unmanned aerial vehicle, using 3D printing technology, part of a Department of the Army project to study the feasibility of using such planes.

The result was a plane with a 6.5-foot wingspan, made from assembled “printed” parts.  It achieved a cruising speed of 45 mph and is only the third 3D-printed plane known to have been built and flown.

“To make a plastic turbofan engine to scale five years ago would have taken two years, at a cost of about $250,000,” the students said. “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.”


Mechanical and aerospace engineering professor and project adviser David Sheffler, left, with the “printed” plane’s creators, Steven Easter, center, and Jonathan Turman. (credit: University of Virginia)