First combat aircraft with 3D-printed parts
completes test flight


First combat aircraft with 3D-printed parts completes test flight

News: a fighter jet incorporating 3D-printed parts has successfully completed a test flight, making it the first combat aircraft produced using additive manufacturing.

Defence contractor BAE Systems announced yesterday that the Tornado aircraft fitted with components printed at a Royal Air Force base completed a successful test flight from the company's airfield at Warton in Lancashire, UK, last month.

The firm's combat engineering team is now using 3D printing to design and produce ready-made parts for four squadrons of Tornado GR4 aircraft at RAF Marham, a Royal Air Force station in Norfolk, UK. Components include protective covers for cockpit radios, support struts on the air intake door and protective guards for power take-off shafts.

First combat aircraft with 3D-printed parts completes test flight
Image showing construction of 3D-printed parts

They estimate that use of the technology will cut the cost of repairs, maintenance and service to the Royal Air Force by more than £1.2 million over the next four years, but also paves the way for using 3D printed parts in other military equipment.

"You are suddenly not fixed in terms of where you have to manufacture these things," said Mike Murray, head of airframe integration at BAE Systems. "You can manufacture the products at whatever base you want, providing you can get a machine there, which means you can also start to support other platforms such as ships and aircraft carriers."

"If it's feasible to get machines out on the front line, it also gives improved capability where we wouldn't traditionally have any manufacturing support," he added.

The US military has been developing its own 3D printers for the frontline for some time, enabling soldiers to quickly and cheaply produce spare parts for their weapons and equipment, while NASA is developing an orbiting factory that will use 3D printing and robots to fabricate giant structures such as antennas and solar arrays in space.

  • OAFdesign

    I still have a question for Marcus. Is this the most interesting stuff that a 3D printer could do? Stupid gadgets, military parts or guns for everyone? Maybe the only alternative is to make a post about a person who designs something that killed millions of people!

    • Superbird Creative

      Technology is mostly driven by war. Why should 3D printing be any different?

      • OAFdesign

        It’s not about the project. You’re right, unfortunately the war accelerates the technology progress. But what do you think about the most visited design blog which still post news articles about war, guns or Mr Kalashnikov? Are they interesting news for the design world? Or maybe its going for something more interesting and consistent about these “new” 3D printers?

        • Superbird Creative

          I’d rather we didn’t feel the need to have people killing each other and I’d obviously rather see 3D-printing being used to save lives rather than take them. Kalashnikov is an interesting one. The context and times in which the AK47 was invented is part of the story. Yes, it’s a weapon that kills people but arguably it helped repel the nasty fascist invader etc.

  • smack

    Hey Dezeen, considering the aircraft with 3D printing is notable when it successfully flies, I hope to have a follow-up report on the first person killed by an aircraft with 3D printing. It’s a brave new world we’re entering, isn’t it?

  • Can you tell me what is the use of 3D printing in the war? According to my view, In war we generally use rifles and other equipment instead of 3D-printed parts. We have many technologies that overcomes this technology in the aircraft.