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article imageFirst flight by combat aircraft fitted with 3D printed parts

By Robert Myles     Jan 5, 2014 in Technology
Warton - British defense manufacturer BAE Systems announced, Sunday, that a Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornado fighter plane flew from an airfield in north-west England fitted out with components made using 3D printing technology.
BAE Systems said metal components were successfully trialled on board a Tornado fighter from the company’s test-bed airfield at Warton, Lancashire in late December.
The aircraft parts tested comprised a protective cover for the cockpit radio, as well as parts used in the plane’s air intake system and landing gear.
3D printing is rapidly assuming the mantle of tomorrow’s technology today, reminiscent of replicators used in sci-fi series like Star Trek. The process involves manufacturing objects by building up layers of material on the basis of a numerical model in three dimensions.
In August 2013, NASA successfully tested a rocket engine, one of whose parts, an injector used in the fuel system, had been printed using selective laser melting of a metallic powder. The powdered nickel-chromium alloy provided the necessary materials for the rocket component.
BAE Systems said that some parts, made using 3D print technology at RAF Marham airbase in eastern England, cost less than £100 (about $164) to manufacture and had the potential to save hundreds of thousands of pounds per annum.
Although 3D printing is still in its infancy, the company said engineers are currently using it to design and produce parts which could reduce RAF servicing and maintenance costs by more than £1.2 million over the next four years.
Mike Murray, head of airframe integration at BAE Systems, told Heart Radio, "You are suddenly not fixed in terms of where you have to manufacture these things. You can manufacture the products at whatever base you want, providing you can get a machine there, which means you can also start to support other platforms such as ships and aircraft carriers.”
Mr. Murray added, “And if it's feasible to get machines out on the front line, it also gives improved capability where we wouldn't traditionally have any manufacturing support."
The Tornado test flight operating with 3D printed parts took place in the same month researchers based at Cornell University produced the first ever consumer electronics goods using 3D technology. The Cornell researchers were able to replicate a working loudspeaker, as reported in Digital Journal, Dec. 29.
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