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World first: UK boffins print out working 3D aeroplane

Tech for difficult, shapely beauties like the Spitfire or LOHAN

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A team from the University of Southampton has produced the world's first fully "printed" airworthy plane – a 1.5-metre-wingspan UAV created in just five days by selective laser sintering (SLS).

According to New Scientist, the £5000 Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft (Sulsa) was an attempt to see just how fast you could get a vehicle from the drawing board into the air. The boffins, led by Andy Keane and Jim Scanlan, took their design to 3T RPD in Berkshire, which put its sintering machines to work constructing a layer-by-layer nylon representation of the supplied CAD data.

3T RPD explains: "3D CAD data of a new product or prototype component is sliced into layers, and the powder is sintered (melted) layer by layer. Additional powder is deposited on top of each solidified layer and again sintered. When the part is complete the build chamber is allowed to cool and the component removed."

As the above video explains, the advantage of SLS is that it can be used to mould complex shapes which have previously proved hard to manufacture. Southampton Uni's Sulsa pays homage both to the Wellington bomber's geodetic structure and Spitfire's elegant elliptical wing.

The Southampton team says SLS offers the possibility of putting together an aircraft in a matter of days, and quickly producing custom variants as required.

Naturally, you'll be asking yourselves if this impressive technology could be put to work on our own LOHAN Vulture 2 aircraft, and the answer is we certainly hope so. We've already put out feelers to Southampton University and 3T RPD to see how viable it is for a high-altitude rocketplane, so watch this space... ®

Bootnote

Thanks to the various readers who flagged this one up.

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