We’ve seen aircraft parts created via additive manufacturing, and entire cars produced with 3D printers. Now Airbus has debuted the world’s first 3D printed aircraft – Thor — a tiny airplane that made its debut at the Berlin air show in early June.
You can’t ride in it, but the 46-pound pilotless airplane presents a major step forward in the aerospace industry.
While neither the two electric motors nor the control were printed, the remainder of the 50 parts of the craft was created using polyamide. Thor (Test of High-tech Objectives in Reality) is just 4 meters (13 ft.) long and is really more of a drone than an airplane. It took roughly a month to print.
“This is a test of what’s possible with 3D printing technology,” Thor project head Detlev Konigorski told the AFP. “We want to see if we can speed up the development process by using 3D printing not just for individual parts but for an entire system.”
Thor had its first successful flight in November, flying 25 miles. Airbus plans 18 more test missions this year. Thor cost roughly 20,000 euros to produce.
The company’s A350 airliner also includes more than 1,000 3D printed parts. Airbus and Autodesk have also worked on a “bionic” printed partition for its airplanes that will save weight and fuel. The design mimics the structure of cells and bone.
“By 2025 we will be able to use printers to product bionic aircraft structures,” said Peter Sander, who oversees Airbus Germany’s new technology efforts.