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World’s first 3D-printed plane goes to work in Antarctica

by • April 14, 2016 • No Comments

First revealed five years ago, the unmanned Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft (SULSA) bears the distinction of being the world’s initially aircraft to have an entirely 3D-printed body. Whilst it is actually an astounding title, the little electric airplane has now been put to practical use – it is actually been scouting routes for an icebreaker in Antarctica.

SULSA’s four main body parts are manufactured via an EOSINT P730 nylon laser sintering machine, which builds up items through a successive layering technique. Once made, those nylon components can and so just be snapped together by hand inside a few minutes – of course, a motor and electronics do in addition have to be introduced.

The finished product weighs 3 kg (6.6 lb), has a 2-meter (6.6-foot) wingspan, and a top speed of approximately 100 mph (161 km/h). Each individual SULSA is worth of £7,000 (US$9,944), which the University of Southampton points out is less than an hour’s flying time by a manned naval helicopter.

After flight tests off Britain’s Dorset coastline last summer, the aircraft was not long ago put to much additional intensive use over the waters of Antarctica. There, it was producing 30-minute flights of a catapult on the deck of the Royal Navy ice patrol ship HMS Protector, cruising at of 60 mph (96 km/h) while scouting the most path forward through the ice – although it does have an autopilot, in this case it was remotely regulated in real time via a laptop on the ship, transmitting real-time aerial video of its onboard camera.

Every flight ended with it landing in the water, and so being fished out by the crew for subsequent re-use. Shorter-duration reconnaissance flights were managed via a quadcopter, which was able-bodied to land back on the Protector.

“This trial of these affordable but highly versatile aircraft has been an significant initially step in establishing the utility of unmanned aerial vehicles in this region,” says HMS Protector’s Captain Rory Bryan, regarding SULSA. “It’s demonstrated to me which this is a capability which I can use to excellent effect.”

Source: University of Southampton

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