Students build a 3D printed plane

3d printed plane

A student team has successfully designed, built, and flown a 3D printed RC plane using only $16 of plastic with a consumer-grade 3D printer (Makerbot), plus the necessary electronics and motor.

The folks over at the Wright Brothers Institute (WBI) have a great program called the AFRL Discovery Lab which brings teams of students, businesses, researchers, and government together to work on a specific challenge or opportunity.

One of the programs this year was the Disposable Miniature Air Vehicle, or DMAV for short. The student interns [Nathan, Ben, and Brian] spent the first 5 weeks at Tec^Edge designing the plane. The team went through 5 revisions before they settled on a design they believed could fly. The final plane weighed 1.5 pounds, and on its first flight… plummeted into the ground. Good thing they printed a second copy! After some more practice [Stephen] got the hang of it and was able to fly and land the plane successfully.

According to the WBI, this is the first functional aircraft that has been fully 3D printed (sans electronics) using FDM technology, and the first low wing 3D printed plane to be flown. Hate to burst their bubble, but 3D printed quadcopters have been around for quite a while!

Test flight video is after the break.

[Thanks Geeks Anonymouse]


  1. Bob Nichie says: this was posted to thingiverse may 2013.
    DMAV first flight is dated July 2013. Looks like the ‘first printed plane’ claim might be inaccurate.

    • Bliss says:

      You’re right Michaels model has completed its first flight in the Evening of the Ninth May on the Airfiled of the Aero Club Airfield Niedereschbach e.V. (Germany)

      • Speedy Gonzales says:

        Not sure what Michael printed his with, but the linked article says this came out of a Makerbot. Potentially an order of magnitude cheaper printer.

        • m says:

          Michael’s model was printed on a RepRap MendelMax — half the cost of a current Makerbot. The WBI is wrong about this being the first 3D printed plane to fly. It is the first low-wing plane that I know of, though.

          • No, my plane was printed by my own designed “Wersybot” which is a derivate of the Printrbot:
            The things you see printing by a Mendelmax were printed by a friend – just for the video he made for me.
            All parts for the plane can be printed without support which makes the design much more difficult. Therefore I would very much like to see the stl’s of the students.

            BTW: When I started to design the plane I had almost no idea about planes, I didn’t even know how a servo looks like ;-)

    • lwatcdr says:

      It looks like it uses carbon fiber rods for spars and may use a film to cover the wing. Hard to tell from the pictures. The planes from Ohio state look like they printed the skin of the wing and the spar. Depends on what you mean by completely printed. Both projects are very cool and they both did a lot of work so overall I would drop the nitpicking.

    • Richard says:

      also this was done in 2011 though on a much more expensive machine

  2. Lets not forget

    Altho it was selective laser sintered (SLS) rather than FDM. If you have a printer that performs well I’m not entirely sure a model plane is terribly challenging. This did get me thinking about using a 3D print bed to make more complicated wing structures but then remembered soluble filament. I also remembered a 3D print bed would also require a 3D printer that can print in 3D rather than in 2D layers (the irony of many 3D printers)

  3. Bitflusher says:

    i have been folowing this design since nov 2012:

    cool more and more succeed in printing somethingthat goes up and stays up for a while.

  4. gopa says:

    strap a powerful enough engine and you can make a garbage bin cover fly.

  5. HC says:

    >A student team has successfully designed, built, and flown a 3D printed RC plane using only $16 of plastic
    And a number of motors, radio control electronics, battery, and assembly.

    >this is the first functional aircraft that has been fully 3D printed
    James, do you have the slightest idea what the word “fully” means?

    HaD, please hire someone to go around with a ruler to whack the knuckles of people writing grossly exaggerated article intros.

    • greenbacks says:

      He didn’t make the claim, it’s stated in the article. He just copy/pasted it.

      • HC says:

        Ah, so the fact the outlandish and obviously false claim was originally authored by someone else makes it appropriate to repeat. I hope HaD doesn’t glance around while checking out at the supermarket or “Hackers can turn your computer into a bomb!” will show up in a post tomorrow.

        • Adam says:

          The youtube video has the claim saying that just the airframe is fully 3D printed so the claim is clarified and valid.

          • static says:

            I would suggest you apply for a chief editor position at Hackaday, but I don’t think there’s a business in existence that can afford to pay a person who knows every thing there is to know about every possible subject what they are worth. ;)

  6. Joejoedancer says:

    There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.
    – Mark Twain, a Biography

  7. roboman2444 says:

    Its cheaper to make it the way hobbyists have been doing it for years.
    Foamboard, hotglue, and packing tape.

    • Jelle says:

      foamies have only been around for 10-20 years. Before that time most model planes were balsa affairs. Building methods change, slow or fast depending on the builder. A 3D printer is just a tool, so why not use it for your hobby? As for cheaper: not everyone goes for that; it is a hobby not a business.

      • Luke says:

        A buddy of mine built a foamy over 40 years ago. You could buy a couple of foam models back then too. Testor had a mixed foam/balsa model in the ’60s. Balsa was more common.

        • targetdrone says:

          The old small Testor’s models I built back in the early 70’s were made almost entirely with balsa skinned in doped tissue paper. They had vacuum formed styrene for small detail parts, such as the cowling at the nose, wheel pants, and wing tips. I don’t ever remember seeing styrofoam until some time in the 1970s.

          As a kid with no money, I was only building tiny cheap models, though. They came with a rubber band engine, (the plans included a solid firewall mount for an .049 engine.) It’s certainly possible that they used Styrofoam in the larger models.

  8. Buzz says:

    looks an awful lot like my UAV design from ~6months ago….. just sayin. mine is here: I’m not saying its identical… but the similarities are remarkable, don’t u think ? :-)

    • lwatcdr says:

      No not really. It is a monoplane and looks much like every other monoplane. Sort of like how all spoons look alike.

      • Buzz says:

        so, both designs feature these specific elements:
        * a cylindrical main fuse
        * a tapered/ conical rear fuse->tail section.
        * leading edge taper on wing, but no trailing edge taper
        * ailerons that start part way out, and extend to the wingtip.
        * fuselage mounted tail surfaces ( ie not T, V, cruciform or flying tail )
        * empennage is not centre-line mounted, and is elevated to increase ground clearance ( esp with a wheeled takeoff , or for when belly-landing in grass, etc )
        * If their design also has internal elements for carbon-fibre spars, I’d say it’s a derivative/clone of my design. ( which is cool, but they should have said so ).

  9. Tuomas Haarala says:

    There is no bubble to be burst. Aeroplanes are aerodynamic flying object while all helicopter variants are uglydynamic objects. They fly because they are so ugly that earth repels them.

  10. Balsa Man says:

    I am more interested in the use of inexpensive laser cutters to produce balsa aircraft, ideally from long forgotten kit plans.

    That should be far less expensive than the traditional die pressed and machine cut processes.

  11. Jeremy says:

    Could someone please tell the guy launching the plane that he doesn’t have to run? It sounds like they are using a brushless setup, but regardless, that plane is not underpowered. An easy toss will work.

  12. shutdown.override says:

    I’m glad to see fellow Daytonians hit the headlines here. @Tec^Edge, You’re only 3.4 mi from Dayton Diode. Have you guys thought about collaborating with the local hackerspace?

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