Student Engineers Design, Build, Fly 'Printed' Airplane

When University of Virginia engineering students posted a YouTube video last spring of a plastic turbofan engine they had designed and built using 3-D printing technology, they didn't expect it to lead to anything except some page views.

Mechanical and aerospace engineering professor and project adviser David Sheffler, left, with the "printed" plane's creators, Steven Easter, center, and Jonathan Turman. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Virginia)
Mechanical and aerospace engineering professor and project adviser David Sheffler, left, with the "printed" plane's creators, Steven Easter, center, and Jonathan Turman. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Virginia)

But executives at Mitre Corporation, a McLean-based defense contractor, saw the video and sent an announcement to the School of Engineering and Applied Science that they were looking for two summer interns to work on a new project involving 3-D printing. They just didn't say what the project was.


Only one student responded to the job announcement: Steven Easter, then a third-year mechanical engineering major.
"I was curious about what they had to offer, but I didn't call them until the day of the application deadline," Easter said.
He got a last-minute interview and brought with him his brother and lab partner, Jonathan Turman, also a third-year mechanical engineering major.


They got the job: to build over the summer an unmanned aerial vehicle, using 3-D printing technology. In other words, a plastic plane, to be designed, fabricated, built and test-flown between May and August. A real-world engineering challenge, and part of a Department of the Army project to study the feasibility of using such planes.


Three-dimensional printing is, as the name implies, the production or "printing" of actual objects, such as parts for a small airplane, by using a machine that traces out layers of melted plastic in specific shapes until it builds up a piece exactly according to the size and dimensions specified in a computer-aided drawing produced by an engineer.


In this case, the engineers were Easter and Turman, working with insight from their adviser, mechanical and aerospace engineering professor David Sheffler, a U.Va. Engineering School alumnus and 20-year veteran of the aerospace industry.


It was a daunting project -- producing a plane with a 6.5-foot wingspan, made from assembled "printed" parts. The students sometimes put in 80-hour workweeks, with many long nights in the lab.


"It was sort of a seat-of-the-pants thing at first -- wham, bang," Easter said. "But we kept banging away and became more confident as we kept designing and printing out new parts."

Sheffler said he had confidence in them "the entire way."


The way eventually led to assembly of the plane and four test flights in August and early September at Milton Airfield near Keswick. It achieved a cruising speed of 45 mph and is only the third 3-D printed plane known to have been built and flown.


During the first test, the plane's nosepiece was damaged while the plane taxied around the field.


"We dogged it," Easter said. "But we printed a new nose."


That ability to make and modify new parts is the beauty of 3-D printing, said Sheffler, who works with students in the Engineering School's Rapid Prototyping Lab. The lab includes seven 3-D printers used as real-world teaching tools.


"Rapid prototyping means rapid in small quantities," Sheffler said. "It's fluid, in that it allows students to evolve their parts and make changes as they go -- design a piece, print it, make needed modifications to the design, and print a new piece. They can do this until they have exactly what they want."


The technology also allows students to take on complex design projects that previously were impractical.


"To make a plastic turbofan engine to scale five years ago would have taken two years, at a cost of about $250,000," Sheffler said. "But with 3-D printing we designed and built it in four months for about $2,000. This opens up an arena of teaching that was not available before. It allows us to train engineers for the real challenges they will face in industry."
Mitre Corp. representatives and Army officials observed the fourth flight of Easter and Turman's plane. They were impressed and asked the students to stay on through this academic year as part-time interns. Their task now is to build an improved plane -- lighter, stronger, faster and more easily assembled. The project also is their fourth-year thesis. "This has been a great opportunity for us," Easter said, "to showcase engineering at U.Va. and the capabilities of the Rapid Prototyping Lab."

Comments

very cool 3-d printing success story. Hope it won't be used for 'military' applications...

This is a really quality post. I find this information through Google Search engine. I read your Article very carefully it is really very information Article, I bookmarked your site. ThanksMizuno mx-1000 irons | Mizuno mp-69 irons | Ping k15 Driver | Taylormade R9 Irons | TaylorMade R9 supermax driver

I am very happy to find this site. I wanted to thank you for this immense read!! I absolutely enjoying every petite bit of it and I have you bookmarked to test out new substance you post.Callaway RAZR X Irons | Callaway RAZR X HL Irons | Callaway Diablo Edge Hybrid | Taylormade burner superfast 2.0 driver | Callaway RAZR Hawk neutral Driver

I think the partnership that she has made with the schools is so good. So happy with the ideas that she is offering. The food will definitely benefit the kids so much. http://www.ukgolfmarket.co.uk

The ball-shaped shuttle acts pass4sure 70-410 braindumps as a base for hundreds of mini-robots that fly out to reach the farthest corners of the house, scan the entire space and start cleaning in a choreographed swarm-like play that can be both breathtaking and spooky. http://www.pass4sures.co/70-410.html

They have successfully run that project. Teachers shopuld encourage more projects like this. affordable dental implants cancun This project can help them to learn a lot.

Anthony Klink -
Make sure the brochure or flyer is attractive and eye-catching, especially if the customers will be responsible for picking it up themselves. Remember to use plenty of white space, and try using drop shadows to make your brochure and flyer designs really pop off the page.

really it is talented. They put excellent effort to this. i am truly amazed. This can also help our polices to solve some problems.air duct cleaning san jose