3D Printed Ribs For Not 3D Printed Planes

A few months ago, [Tom] built a few RC planes. The first was completely 3D printed, but the resulting print — and plane — came in a bit overweight, making it a terrible plane. The second plane was a VTOL tilt rotor, using aluminum box section for the wing spar. This plane was a lot of fun to fly, but again, a bit overweight and the airfoil was never quite right.

Obviously, there are improvements to be made in the field of 3D printed aeronautics, and [Tom]’s recent experiments with 3D printed ribs hit it out of the park.

If you’re unfamiliar, a wing spar is a very long member that goes from wingtip to wingtip, or from the fuselage to each wingtip, and effectively supports the entire weight of the plane. The ribs run perpendicular to the spar and provide support for the wing covering, whether it’s aluminum, foam board, or monokote.

For this build, [Tom] is relying on the old standby, a square piece of balsa. The ribs, though, are 3D printed. They’re basically a single-wall vase in the shape of a wing rib, and are attached to the covering (foam board) with Gorilla glue.

Did the 3D printed ribs work? Yes, of course, you can strap a motor to a toaster and get it to fly. What’s interesting here is how good the resulting wing looked. It’s not quite up to the quality of fancy fiberglass wings, but it’s on par with any other foam board construction.

The takeaway, though, is how much lighter this construction was when compared to the completely 3D printed plane. With similar electronics, the plane with the 3D printed ribs weighed in at 312 grams. The completely 3D printed plane was a hefty 468 grams. That’s a lot of weight saved, and that translates into more flying time.

You can check out the build video below.

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3D Printed Plane Flies High

One of our avid readers, [Niklas Melton] loves RC planes. After getting into 3D printing, the next logical step was to start building is own planes… And now he’s done it!

He calls it the Air-Form 1 Micro RC plane, paying homage to the FormLabs resin printer he used. All of the parts except for the electronics were printed using a tough resin. It’s designed to take balsa wood wings into clips he designed into the parts. A 150mAh battery provides the power with a motor that exerts about 54g of thrust — not bad considering the entire thing only weighs 60g! Unfortunately he doesn’t have any video clips of it flying, though he assures us it does indeed fly — if you’re interested in building your own, he’s uploaded all the files to a page on Thingiverse.

As more advanced 3D printers come down in price, like the SLA technology, it becomes possible to design and 3D print even more complex parts. Some of the resins available have now some pretty amazing properties. One of our readers replaced a servo spline gear with one he printed — which works even better than the original!

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.

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