Low Cost, 3D Printed UAV Test Bed

A new 3D printed UAV could bridge the gap between wind tunnel and manned flight test for future aircraft.

UAV, Area-i, flight, control, tersts3D Printing firm Solid Concepts has partnered with aerospace engineering firm Area-I to create a scale model of a 737 used to simulate real-world aerodynamics.

Named the Prototype-Technology Evaluation and Research Aircraft (PTERA), the model craft serves as an inexpensive and safe bridge between wind tunnel evaluations and manned flight tests. During each flight the PTERA is packed with sensors and flight test measurement systems that can help engineers get a safe view of the ways advanced aerodynamic treatments work under real flight conditions.

Built around a human sized airframe, the PTERA features ailerons, a fuel tank, control surfaces and flaps   created using Solid Concepts’ SLS printers. Given the tight tolerances required for components to fit both in the interior and on the exterior of the PTERA, additive manufacturing ensured that engineers could meet all of their design requirements.

“Additive manufacturing has completely changed the way we design aircraft,” says Nick Alley, CEO of Area-I. “We used to shy away from certain complex designs, opting for more basic structures. With additive manufacturing we can now create even the most complicated designs. It has completely opened up design capabilities that we wouldn’t be able to make with any other manufacturing method.”

Because the PTERA is a miniaturized version of a 737 the results garnered from flight tests can be directly applied to improving real world aircraft. What’s more, 3D printing frees engineers at Area-I to experiment more with their designs as rapid prototyping takes days, not weeks, to design, manufacture and install specialized aerospace components.

Images and Videos Courtesy of Solid Concepts