How To Slice Lightweight Aircraft Parts For 3D Printing

Historically, remote control aircraft were produced much like their early full-sized counterparts. Wooden structures were covered with adhesives and taut fabric membranes. Other techniques later came to the fore, with builders looking to foam and other materials. Of course, these days 3D printers are all the rage, so perhaps one can simply print out a whole plane? As [sahevaantaneja] discovered, it’s not that easy!

One of the foremost problems is the process of slicing. This is where 3D geometry is transformed into the G-code which defines the path taken by the 3D printer during production of a component. Slicer software is generally optimised for working with mostly-solid objects, and some tweaks can be required when working with thin-walled designs.

These challenges come to bear with an aircraft design, which, by necessity must be lightweight. [sahevaantaneja] does a great job of explaining the journey of discovery in which their design was optimised to work with conventional slicers. This allowed the various components to be printed without errors, while retaining their strength to survive in flight.

The design was successful in test flights –  a great reward after much experimentation. We’ve seen other 3D printed designs take flight, too. Video after the break.

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Awesome Looking 3D Printed RC Plane Is Full Of Design Considerations

Designing and 3D printing RC planes offer several interesting challenges, and so besides being awesome looking and a fast flier, [localfiend’s] Northern Pike build is definitely worth a look. Some details can be found by wading through this forum but there’s also quite a bit on his Thingiverse page.

Tongue-and-groove joint for the wing
Tongue-and-groove joint

Naturally, for an RC plane, weight is an issue. When’s the last time you used 0% infill, as he does for some parts? Those parts also have only one perimeter, making this thin-walled-construction indeed. He’s even cut out circles on the spars inside the wings. For extra strength, a cheap carbon fiber arrow from Walmart serves as a spar in the main wing section. Adding more strength yet, most parts go together with tongue-and-groove assembly, making for a stronger join than there would be otherwise. This slotted join also acts as a spar where it’s done for two wing sections. To handle higher temperatures, he recommends PETG, ABS, ASA, Polycarbonate, and nylon for the motor mount and firewall while the rest of the plane can be printed with PLA.

As you can tell from the videos below, [localfiend’s] flier is a high-performance 3D printed machine. But such machines don’t have to be relegated to the air as this RC jet boat demonstrates. Though some do hover on a thin cushion of air.

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Cheap RC Boat Turned Weirdly Capable Seaplane

What do you get when you combine a cheap RC boat from Walmart, foam board, a couple powerful motors, and some aluminum cans? Most people would just end up with a pile of garbage, but we’ve already established [Peter Sripol] is fairly far from “most people”. In his hands, this collection of scraps turns into an almost unbelievably nimble seaplane, despite looking like something out of a TailSpin and Mad Max crossover episode.

In his latest YouTube video, [Peter] takes viewers through the process of turning one of these rather lame RC boats into an impressive flying machine. His took inspiration from the Sikorsky S-38, an American amphibious aircraft introduced in 1928. The S-38 looked like a fairly traditional boat bolted to the bottom of a set of huge wings, so it’s little surprise that he patterned this build after it.

The construction of the seaplane is very simple, and boils down to cutting some big wings out of foam board, using some sticks to give it some rigid framing, and putting a tail on it. The biggest problem is that the boat’s hull lacks the “steps” that a seaplane would have, so it’s not an ideal shape to lift out of the water. But with enough thrust and a big enough control surface, it all works out in the end.

Which is in effect the principle by which the whole plane flies. There’s a large elevator cantilevered far astern to help leverage the boat out of the water, but otherwise all other control is provided by differential thrust between the two top mounted motors. The lack of a rudder does make its handling a bit sluggish in the water, but it obviously has no problem once it’s airborne.

If [Peter] and his foam board artistry seem familiar, it’s probably from the not one but two homemade aircraft he built with shockingly similar techniques to this current project.

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3D Printed Upgrade For Cheap Foam Glider

We know you’ve seen them: the big foam gliders that are a summertime staple of seemingly every big box retailer and dollar store in the world. They may be made by different companies or have slight cosmetic differences, but they all adhere to the basic formula: a long plastic bag containing the single-piece fuselage and two removable wings and a tail. Rip open the bag, jam the wings into the fuselage, and go see if you can’t get that thing stuck on a roof someplace.

But after you toss it around a few times, things start to get a little stale. Those of us in the Hackaday Collective who still retain memories of our childhood may even recall attempting to augment the glider with some strategically attached bottle rockets. But [Timothy Wright] has done considerably better than that. With the addition of a 3D printed “backpack”, he managed to add not only a motor to one of these foam fliers but an RC receiver and servos to move the control surfaces. The end result is a cheap and surprisingly capable RC plane with relatively little work required.

[Timothy] certainly isn’t claiming to be the first person to slap a motor on a foam glider to wring a bit more fun out of it, but his approach is very slick and of course has the added bonus of being available for other grownup kids to try thanks to the Creative Commons license he released the designs under. He mentions that variations in the different gliders might cause some compatibility issues, but with the generous application of some zip ties and tape, it should be good to go.

This particular hunk of foam might not set any altitude or distance records, and it certainly won’t be carrying you aloft, but it’s a pretty approachable summer project if you’ve got some RC gear laying around.

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A Remote Controlled Air-Plane

The Air Hogs Sky Shark was a free-flying model airplane powered by compressed air. When it was released in the late ’90s, it was a fairly innovative toy featuring a strikingly novel compressed air engine made entirely out of injection molded plastic. Sales of these model planes took off, and landed on the neighbor’s roof, never to be seen again.

A few weeks ago, [Tom Stanton] revisited this novel little air-powered motor by creating his own 3D printed copy. Yes, it worked, and yes, it’s a very impressive 3D print. That build was just on a workbench, though, and to really test this air motor out, [Tom] used it to propel a remote-controlled plane through the air.

The motor used for this experiment is slightly modified from [Tom]’s original air-powered motor. The original motor used a standard 3-blade quadcopter prop, but the flightworthy build is using a much larger prop that swings a lot more air. This, with the addition of a new spring in the motor and a much larger air tank constructed out of plastic bottles results in a motor that’s not very heavy but can still swing a prop for tens of seconds. It’s not much, but it’s something.

The airframe for this experiment was constructed using [Tom]’s 3D printed wing ribs, a carbon fiber boom for the tail, and only rudder and elevator controls. After figuring out some CG issues — the motor doesn’t weigh much, and planes usually have big batteries in the nose — the plane flew remarkably well, albeit for a short amount of time.

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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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KFC Winged Aircraft Actually Flies

[PeterSripol] has made an RC model airplane but instead of using normal wings he decided to try getting it to fly  using some KFC chicken buckets instead. Two KFC buckets in the place of wings were attached to a motor which spins the buckets up to speed. With a little help from the Magnus effect this creates lift.

Many different configurations were tried to get this contraption off the ground. They eventually settled on a dual prop setup, each spinning counter to each other for forward momentum. This helped to negate the gyroscopic effect of the spinning buckets producing the lift. After many failed build-then-fly attempts they finally got it in the air. It works, albeit not to well, but it did fly and was controllable. Perhaps with a few more adjustments and a bit of trial and error someone could build a really unique RC plane using this concept.

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