3D printing an RC airplane using traditional building techniques


Photo 1: First tests of using a built-up model airplane construction techniques with 3D printed parts.

I won't be the first person to use FDM 3D printing to produce an radio controlled (RC) model airplane. So far, through my google searching, all of the planes I've seen were mainly printed in a small number of large pieces, ususally including the skin of the aircraft. These planes are the first of their kind, experimental, and they are pushing the boundaries and demonstrating what's possible. There are a list of 3D printed plane examples at the bottom.

The planes are mainly designed and made by University students with access to large (not desktop) 3D printers which most people don't have access to. They are able to produce large parts with little warping, even print the entire wing as a single piece. This enables them to include the plane's skin in the print and print it all in one piece. That said, plastics have a has a higher density (1200-1400 kg/m^3) than other more traditional skinning materials like balsa and shrink wrap (Monokote/Ultracote).

I thought I could do better, and print using my desktop 3D printer parts that would traditionally be produced by CNC routers or stamps. Thus all or most of the parts are 2D shapes. This, with enough patience, produces a model design that anyone could printed and built by anyone. The idea is to use a built-up airframe approach using a 3D printer to produce most of the parts. This melds traditional balsa wood kit model building techniques, that have been used for most of the last century, with hobby 3D printing.

I'm actually kind of surprised other people aren't doing this. They probably are, but my Google searches aren't returning anything. I started experimenting by designing a flying wing, mostly 3D printed, with carbon fibre spar and balsa skin. So far everything is pretty feasible. I'm gluing with thick CA, which works, but could be better. I'm going to release the design files for this work shortly under CC BY-SA which might make it the first open source, 3d printed, built up construction airplane model.

The designs are drawn currently drawn in Draftsight, a 2D drafting software that saves in .dwg/dxf. I then use a 3D CAD package to import the 2D geometry and create my 3D parts for 3D printing.

This project has garnered some surprising interest by some important people in the 3D printing world. I'll expand on that in a future post. Stay tuned!


Photo 2: Fuselage structure mock-up with battery, autopilot and RC electronics for scale.

Other 3D printed airframes

-YouTube: Scientist Fly World's First "3D Printed" Airplane -- An Unmanned Spy Plane - UAV Drone
-Researchers successfully build and fly a low-cost 3D printed DISPOSABLE aircraft
-Wired: Want a Flying Drone? These Students 3D-Printed Their Own
-DMAV 3D printed airplane (this one has not internal reinforcements like carbon fibre spars).
-Thingiverse - Fully 3D printed modular RC Sailplane.
-DIYDrones: This weekend: 3d printed UAV STL files

Comments

4

I purchased my Go large in the hopes of doing a project like you are tackling. I've always been fascinated by flying wing designs and recently, 3D printing. I have no experience in with either so I guess I'm jumping in head first. I found your blog looking for Slic3r settings, thanks for posting them, I have yet to try them out. There is an article on wired today about a 3D printed flying wing design that you may find interesting. I'd post the link but I don't want to be spammy.

Hey there,

Cool, are you finding the settings useful?

Is this the flying wing? http://www.wired.com/2014/09/military-grade-drone-can-printed-anywhere/

That plane looks fully 3D printed including the skin. Plastic is "dense" which leads to a heavier airframe. There are merits to fully 3D printing an airframe. There are also drawbacks.

I have always wanted to design and build experimental aircraft and recently bought a desktop 3D printer after extensive 3D printer use at work. Naturally the immediate goal for me was to 3D print an RC aircraft. Unfortunately my first attempt was unsuccessful due to motor torque issues (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CO-nlwTz2qY). I also attempted to use a thin shell stressed skin fuselage and solid 10% infill wing sections as a trial run (which was actually not terribly heavy 1.4 lbs for the whole plane, but could have been much lighter using traditional balsa building methods). I wanted to ask a number of questions about your project: Did you use a shrink-wrap iron during application? Have you ever attempted to create a printed skin aircraft? Have you attempted single piece skeletons/ribbing (this was my original thought, but it seems print time and quality need to be high here)? Also, how did you attach your wing sections to the fuselage (I too use Alibre Design at home, but cannot open your GitHub files. What version are you using?) ? I'd like to get your thoughts on these issues, modify and share what I've been working on.

Sup Neal! You have a Google+ account? Come chat with us and share your work on the OpenRC Google+ page: https://plus.google.com/communities/112745535856143176146 I sure would like to hear more about your designs, come chat.

I'm working on an interesting project where we are going to 3D print a large 2.5m wingspan Hughes H-1 Racer. You might be interested in following.

Answers to your questions:

Did you use a shrink-wrap iron during application?

Yes. I actually used 1/16" balsa skin which was then shrink wrapped.

Have you ever attempted to create a printed skin aircraft?

No, I've thought about it but there are 2 problems that made me choose not to. 1, it's lighter to use balsa. 2. printing large plastic parts is difficult due to warping, likely a heated enclosure is required.

Have you attempted single piece skeletons/ribbing (this was my original thought, but it seems print time and quality need to be high here)?

I haven't because for this design I avoided the use of support structures to make printing easier. It's a good idea, one that may come up in a future design.

Also, how did you attach your wing sections to the fuselage (I too use Alibre Design at home, but cannot open your GitHub files. What version are you using?) ?

I had ALibre PE 2012. I've since shifted over to Autodesk Fusion 360. I'm experimenting with it and like it so far. The wings are attached by the wing's carbon fibre spars which pass through the fuselage section. The fuselage section also has 2 carbon fibre spars. Come on Google+ and contact me and I'll post a pic to help explain.

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