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Rapid Manufacturing Drives Production of Military Grade Light Aircraft

It’s no secret that additive manufacturing (AM) has been embraced by the aerospace industry. The relatively low cost and unique capabilities of AM are a natural fit for aircraft. We’ve covered a number of stories on the subject, and it doesn’t look as though the news will be slowing down any time soon.

South African company, Aerosud, with partner Paramount, is looking to move ahead in the military aircraft business by offering a light plane with military applications. The Advanced High-Performance Reconnaissance and Surveillance (AHRLAC) is a manned vehicle that is meant to operate in the same sort of capacity as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

Quarter scale AHRLAC Prototype

Quarter scale AHRLAC prototype in flight. Courtesy of Aerosud.

“This is completely unique in the world,” says Paramount executive chairman Ivor Ichikowitz. The idea behind the plane is that it will fill a gap between relatively cheap unmanned drones and more expensive piloted military aircraft, while trying to offer the advantages of both.”

One of the things that makes the AHRLAC different is the manner in which it was designed. The entire plan for the new aircraft was digitally created, and it relies heavily on AM, as well as CNC milling, for production. South Africa has been looking for a way to leverage its wealth of raw titanium, and has turned its sights on AM sintering systems (using powdered titanium) as one area of development.

Aerosud has been working on building a large scale AM system to build aircraft (story here), and it seems as though the AHRLAC is the forerunner of the program. The company has hinted that the cost of the new aircraft will be around $10 million, which is cheap by military budget standards. This is a good example of how rapid manufacturing can be used to lower costs.

The aircraft will be powered by a 950-shp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66B turboprop, and has been designed to allow for multiple configurations. A digital design plus the use of AM, allows for broad customization. The most basic use is for intelligence gathering or security patrols, but the AHRLAC can also be outfitted with multiple weapons systems to give it a fighting bite. The plane is scheduled to become available in 2013.

Below you’ll find a video about the AHRLAC.

Sources: AIN Online, AHRLAC website

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About John Newman

John Newman is a contributing editor to Desktop Engineering magazine. He covers the rapid prototyping and manufacturing beat.

One comment

  1. Max Leadley-Brown

    Hi, this plane looks very similar, and in many ways inferior to, the Edgely Optica, designed and built in 1975-1979, although only 25 were built.
    Have a look at http://www.optica.co.uk/Gallery.html

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