3D printed helicopter blades

If you’re like us, you’ve been infatuated with the small RC helicopter you picked up on Amazon up until the point where it careened off a wall and broke its blades. Now that you’re wondering about what to do with that small pile of plastic, metal, and electronics, why not print some helicopter blades on your 3D printer?

[Taylor] printed these blades on his Utilimaker, but we don’t see why they couldn’t be printed on a Makerbot or other RepRap. The first set of printed blades worked on the top rotor, but they were too heavy when all four blades were replace. The parts were edited in netfabb using a 0.08mm layer height and now they’re working perfectly. As far as free tools go, Slic3r is the new hotness for .STL to Gcode conversion and now that [Taylor] put the files up on Thingiverse, anyone can print a set of spare blades.

Check out [Taylor] comparing his printed blades to the stock ones that came with his awesome heli after the break.

Comments

  1. Bill rowe says:

    I haven’t broken the blades but i broke the hub and landing gear. Hopefully the printed replacements aren’t as brittle!

    • Dax says:

      Mine has the shaft bent slightly so that the whole helicopter shudders as it goes. That makes some weird turbulence, and it just keeps spinning or dashing in some random direction no matter what you do.

  2. Pinky says:

    I would suggest printing the blades upright without the hole and then drilling the hole. You wouldn’t get the stairs like you do when you print them horizontally. Cool project!

    • Taylor Alexander says:

      Printing this way allows me to make them as thin as I want. I can make them thinner than the track width of the nozzle. If I print them on edge, printing gets weird. The slicer may try to make two passes, or just one. Really neither of those are good.

  3. jeremiah says:

    Let’s see, I could buy an Ultimaker or a Makerbot and print the blades for a total cost of around $1,400, or I could order new blades from Amazon for $4…

    If the blades cost more than the helicopter, I wouldn’t feel that this was so silly. People that have these tools know what they can make, so that makes me feel like these posts are commercials.

    I love Hack-a-Day but these makerbot posts I see everywhere are getting out of hand. Make things you can’t buy or craft from wood. “I fixed my table’s wobble with MakerBot(tm)!” Just use some wood and a saw. Show me someone that’s made a fully articulate robot hand from a 3d printer and you’ll have my full support.

  4. fartface says:

    The problem is these “makerbots” are a major PITA to use. They make it sound like ANYONE can use them.

    Have you ever tried to teach someone 3d CAD? you have to be an expert at that before you can make anything in a thingie-bot.

    They have their place and are very cool. but they are not a magical device yet.

    I see them as a great way to make a prototype to test before sending off to manufacturing, I cant see any long life useful devices coming out if them yet.

    • Taylor Alexander says:

      I agree, these machines are not for everyone. I’m an engineer with 6 years of CAD and machining experience, and many more years of tinkering.

      However, what I did was still a good sign on the road to useful printers for everyone.

      First, they made printers that could make *something* at all. Now they are making printers that can make something good and useful, and the next step will be printers that can make something good and useful that anyone can use.

      You already don’t have to know CAD, as there are a whole lot of parts out there to download from places like thingiverse. Now they just need to get the usability of the machines down to the point where anyone can use them. It will happen.

  5. steve says:

    Usually one is better of by using thingyverse. At least you get decent quality with no hassle and its cheaper if you aren’t printing thousands of pieces a week.

  6. steve says:

    I mean shapeways, not thingyverse

    • zigzagjoe says:

      That is assuming you could even get that kind of throughput on a hobbyist printer. Would be hard pressed to get anything like that unless the objects being printed are really simple.

      Though, it does bring to mind an interesting thought; make the head of a *bot bigger, and put multiple extruders on it, for parallel printing. Make batch work faster, anyways.

      (that report button is really ill-placed)

  7. 3D printed Hand says:

    Here you go sir fully 3d printed hand.

  8. Caloteiro says:

    Nicely done! Good idea for the revival of the chopper

  9. Eric says:

    Wouldn’t it be more prudent to print vacuum form blade molds and produce proper replacement blades?

    • Taylor Alexander says:

      More prudent how so? That takes much more time and energy. I can just print a blade and it works. Printing a mold, vaccuum forming blades, and cutting off the flashing doesn’t sound easier.

      The blades would be more durable, but if I wanted more durable blades, I’d buy the real ones for $4. :)

      This was just an experiment to see if direct 3d printed heli blades would work.

  10. medix says:

    Interesting use of a printer (definitely resourceful), however I have my doubts about the structural integrity of the blades. It may not matter on such a small heli, but I’d be mighty fearful of catastrophic failure on a larger heli. I doubt it’ll take much force to get printed blades to fail at high speed.

    • nikescar says:

      Yes. I definitely would be a bit scared to have my one of my eyes gouged out especially with a chip in one the blades.

    • Taylor Alexander says:

      Hah, oh I agree they certainly aren’t as safe as the stock blades.

      Interestingly, they like to break against the grain, not along it as I expected.

      On this tiny heli, there isn’t much kinetic energy in them, so a failure isn’t too dangerous. They seem to be fine as long as I don’t crash.

      I have a 450 size heli too though, and I may experiment with making blades for it. However, I will test them in a safe open area, with eye protection for me and anyone around. And if I’m unlicky enough to break just one blade and send the thing so far out of balance it bends the main shaft – well, luckily I recently got a sweet deal on a whole mess of replacement parts for it so I have a few extra main/secondary shafts.

      But I agree, safety is an issue. I updated my thingiverse page with a note about that.

  11. Hirudinea says:

    Couldn’t you do this with a regular printer, printing out each layer and then gluing them toghter by hand, sure it would be a huge pain in the ass, but it would also be a hell of alot cheaper than buying a 3D printer to replace the blades on a cheap toy helicopter.

  12. Taylor Alexander says:

    Yaaaaay, something I made made it on HackADay!

    A few notes:

    People seem to be missing the point here. The idea is not that being able to print helicopter blades will suddenly save so much money that my 3D printer purchase will be worth it – truth be told I still haven’t broken the first set of blades, I have a spare set also, and I know replacement sets are cheap and an entire new heli is $30.

    I did not do this to save money. I did this to prove how capable home 3D printers are. I can tell you that a MakerBot would probably have a hard time doing this, but my Ultimaker did it with relative ease. This shows how the new machines and new software tools (like NetFabb) are making this possible, and as they evolve they will continue to be able to make better and better parts.

    Also a note: it says I edited the blades in NetFabb. Technically I designed/edited them in Solidworks, and sliced them in NetFabb. No real editing happened in NetFabb, as editing STL files is a pain.

    If you’re curious, the edited blade are thinner, have a higher angle of attack, and have a narrower profile. Thats how I made them lighter. I always sliced them with the 0.08mm profile. I did try one blade at .35mm out of curiosity, but it didn’t go well.
    -Taylor

  13. slinky says:

    Don’t wanna knock printing one’s own blades at all, because it’s very cool! But, if you want to support a manufacturer who actually supplies all the replacement parts for a quality micro-heli, take a look at Horizon Hobby and their Blade and E-Flite lines of helis. They sell *every* part that goes into their birds, and even give you a little screwdriver in the box for maintenance. They are definitely fix-it-friendly.

    • Taylor Alexander says:

      Oh I’ve got a great local hobby shop that sells a lot of E-Flite products, and I intend to get some flavor of Blade heli from them and the ensuing replacement parts, once I buy another heli.

      As tempting as it is to keep buying these chinese copters (The GW 9958 looks great), I want to start buying locally and support this guy.

      -Taylor

  14. abc123 says:

    The big boys have developed a penchant to sweep the blade tips for some reasons.

    http://www.boeing.com/apachenews/2009/issue_01/innovation_s20_p2.html

    • Taylor Alexander says:

      Yeah, there’s a fair bit of good info online about wing/blade design. The issue is turbulence at the tip, which those sweeps are trying to reduce. I dabbled with more advanced wing designs but ultimately figured I wasn’t worried about it and printed simple ones.

  15. miked says:

    I wish I only broke the blades on my two helis! Instead I broke the inner shaft. I ordered a replacement when I broke the first one and it just came in today. Next order will include spares.

  16. Billy says:

    A couple of things.

    First, I’m anxious to get my hands on a $300 3D Printer called MakiBox http://bit.ly/xjDLyC. (Wow a saving of ~80%! Now each blade can be yours for as little as $75 each vs $350)

    Second, for lack of a better phrase, you have to think different.

    The thing about 3D printers is that almost everyone who either makes these printers or uses them spend a ton of time printing mundane, every day items.

    They get excited about printing a flashlight, or a plastic cup, or a paperweight. C’mon, these printers open the door to create objects that are probably impossible to manufacture any other way.

    • Indeed.
      One of the default/easy functional items you can print is a whistle. Theres also a working flute.

      Think how easy it would be now to try different instrument shapes and see the effect on the sound?
      All sorts of new and crazy possibilities open up.

      Not necessarily impossible to do before, but certainly far too much effort for mere experiments.

  17. Alex says:

    Have you tried printing more complex parts like a blade grip?

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