When Mitre Corporation, a McLean-based defense contractor announced that they were looking for summer interns, University of Virginia engineering student Steven Easter and his brother and lab partner, Jonathan Turman applied the job. They got the assignment: to build an unmanned aerial vehicle, using 3D printing technology.
Luckily they got support from Professor David Sheffler, a 20-year veteran in aerospace engineering. Between May and August the team has been working on designing and building a plane entirely from parts from a 3D printer. with a 6.5-foot wingspan and made of 3D printed parts.
There are seven 3D printers in the Engineering School’s Rapid Prototyping Lab. These 3D printers allows students to design, modify and print the parts until they get exactly what they want.
The plane has a 6.5-foot wingspan and all the parts were printed in layers in plastic. During four test flights in August and early September at Milton Airfield near Keswick, the plane achieved a cruising speed of 45 mph.
(Mechanical and aerospace engineering professor and project adviser David Sheffler, left, with the “printed” plane’s creators, Steven Easter, center, and Jonathan Turman. )
This is “the third 3-D printed plane known to have been built and flown.” notes in UVA Today’s news.
The technology also allows students to take on complex design projects that previously were impractical.
“To make a plastic turbofan engine to scale five years ago would have taken two years, at a cost of about $250,000,” Sheffler said. “But with 3-D 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.”
(The unmanned aerial vehicle, “dressed” in U.Va.’s colors.)
The students work impressed Mitre Corp. representatives and Army officials, they got a new task – “to build an improved plane – lighter, stronger, faster and more easily assembled.”
Besides creating an attractive and operational unmanned airplane, this is also a valuable experience for the students. “The students sometimes put in 80-hour workweeks, with many long nights in the lab.”
“It was sort of a seat-of-the-pants thing at first – wham, bang,” Easter said. “But we kept banging away and became more confident as we kept designing and printing out new parts.”
Source: UVA Today