Two-Person Team Designs 3D-Printed Aircraft Through Discovery Method

Another first for 3D-printed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). But this story from Stratasys take an entirely different <flight> path. 

SelectTech's unmanned aerial systemI first alluded to this Stratasys success story in my post about perfection. While this world’s-first unmanned aerial system (UAS) is still being perfected, and the brains behind it make no claims about being perfect, this two-person team has achieved great results with an imperfect, trial-and-error approach.

It’s an approach I applaud and encourage. Why? Let the results be the proof:

  • First 3D printed UAS to take off and land on its own gear.
  • Unfunded side project (read between the lines — shoestring budget).
  • Limited resources (two-person team rather than a room full of PhDs and aeronautical engineers).
  • Eight months from first sketch to first flight.

The company behind this project is SelectTech Geospatial, which specializes in command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C2ISR) technology. The team included Frank Beafore, executive director, and Beth Galang, chief designer. The 3D printer was a Dimension 3D Printer that uses Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology.

UAS's first flightFrank and Beth refined the entire airframe (four-foot wingspan) through discoveries from physical, 3D printed prototypes. Frank would sketch concepts, and Beth would model them in CAD and print the parts. Then it was off to the tarmac for testing. “We’d discover physical failures, redesign and get the parts right back into the FDM machine,” Galang said.

Discovery and redesign led up to the first flight. This 3D printed aircraft (all but the engine and landing gear) cruised at 200 feet and gently landed on its own gear.  

“Our success proves that this rapid-response method is ideal for sophisticated products. It is a speedy way to shake down new products before committing to a final design and manufacturing tools,” said Beafore.

Read the full success story.

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