Sometimes one good project leads to another. At the University of Virginia, a class project to construct a 3D printed plastic turbofan engine replica, sponsored by Rolls-Royce, got the students some attention and has led to the creation of a flight-worthy 3D printed drone.
The engineering students built a plastic turbofan engine using 3D printing technology and some copper tubing that could be powered with compressed air, for under $2,000. A YouTube video of the engine caught the attention of the Mitre Corporation, a defense contractor. Two of the students, Steven Easter and Jonathan Turman, went on to receive a summer internship at the company with a far more challenging goal: build an Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV) from 3D printed parts.
The team worked with their professor from the engine project, University of Virginia alumni David Sheffler, who has 20 years of experience in the aerospace industry. The project's mission was to create a UAV with a 6.5" wingspan, made from assembled 3D printed plastic parts.
After completing construction of the UAV, the team conducted four test flights in August and September, where the aircraft hit a cruising speed of 70 kilometers per hour. Observers from Mitre and the U.S. Amy watched the final test flight and were sufficiently impressed; the team's internship has been extended and they have been tasked with building a lighter and easier to assemble model.
Students at the University of Virginia are well situated to take on these kind of exciting projects, the school's Rapid Prototyping Lab has six uPrint 3D Printers and a Fortus 3D Production System from Stratasys.