Mechanical and aerospace engineering professor, David Sheffler (L),
with the “printed” airplane’s creators, Steven Easter (center) and
Jonathan Turman. Photo courtesy of the University of Virginia.
Read bonus content featuring
3D Figureworks here or online at
Walter Taylor’s printed sailplane is free
on Thingverse.com. RTP or ready-to-print
RC airplanes are born. Photo courtesy of
Friday night for a weekend of flying.
In your rush to load the van you
smash your favorite airplane’s aileron
and snap the hinge. The hobby shops
are closed, purchasing online will take
days, and you want to fly tomorrow.
No problem; just print one.
Perhaps one day, companies such as
Horizon Hobby, Hobbico, and Du-Bro
will have online catalogs of 3-D parts
that, for a small fee, you can download
and print. One enterprising AMA member
is already doing that. William “Odie” O’Dell
of San Diego is designing and printing custom
propellers, spinners, landing gear, servo mounts,
and other parts for fellow modelers. If you have your
own printer, you can download his designs for free via his
Thingverse profile Odie-Wan.
How about taking it one step further and printing out
an entire airplane? That is what an engineering team did at
the University of Southampton in 2011. The team designed
and printed an electric RC airplane that required no tools to
assemble. Dubbed the Southampton University Laser Sintered
Aircraft (SULSA), the airplane had a 6.5-foot elliptical
wingspan and flew at more than 100 mph.
Shortly after, in the summer of 2011, two brothers, Steven
Easter and Jonathan Turman, both engineering students at
the University of Virginia, printed their own RC airplane. The
airplane also had the same wingspan, but unlike the SULSA, it
was similar in design to a Sig Kadet.
Both of these airplanes are engineering milestones for
aeromodeling and 3-D printing. Both had a team of engineers
and high-end, expensive 3-D printers, but inspired by these
projects, 3-D hobbyists quickly set their sights on printing out
airplanes with their RepRap homebrew printers.
Walter Taylor is one of those people. Walter is a sailplane
enthusiast and was unhappy with reproducing airfoils through
traditional building methods. He could only approximate the
correct shape and design and wanted a way to create an exact
He modeled airfoils on his computer and started printing them
out. He then moved on to other parts of the airplane. Before
long he had a whole airplane ready to print. Walter says that
3-D printing allows him to build complex airplane designs
while sitting at his desk, and he only needs a few simple hand
tools such as a file and some drill bits.
He no longer needs a dedicated area, workbench, scroll saw,
drill press, harsh chemicals, and hundreds of invested man-hours to create an airplane. It still takes many hours to print,
but once started, he can walk away and enjoy doing something
else while replacing man-hours with printer hours.
3-D printing is popping up in workshops and on desktops
everywhere. Although the dizzying array of choices might
make one want to wait before trying it, there is no denying
that 3-D printing is here to stay.
For an aeromodeler, the possibilities are endless. With
innovators such as Steven Easter, Jonathan Turman, Walter
Taylor, Michael Christou, and countless others, we have
entered a new phase of model aviation. We can add a new
entry to the list of model aviation acronyms. We now have
airplanes that can be RTF, ARF, PNP, BNF, or RTP—ready to
Walt Taylor’s 3-D printed airplane
William O’Dell’s 3-D printed airplane parts
59 Model Aviation OC TOBER 2013 www.ModelAviation.com