Engineers test fly printed aircraft off warship

Engineers test fly printed aircraft off warship
SULSA UAV taking off on test flight. Credit: MOD Crown

A 3D printed aircraft has successfully launched off the front of a Royal Navy warship and landed safely on a Dorset beach.

HMS Mersey provided the perfect platform for the University of Southampton to test out their SULSA (UAV).

Weighing 3kg and measuring 1.5m the airframe was created on a 3D printer using laser sintered nylon and catapulted off HMS Mersey into the Wyke Regis Training Facility in Weymouth, before landing on Chesil Beach.

The flight, which covered roughly 500 metres, lasted less than few minutes but demonstrated the potential use of small lightweight UAVs, which can be easily launched at sea, in a maritime environment. The aircraft carried a small video camera to record its flight and Southampton researchers monitored the flight from their UAV control van with its on-board video-cameras.

Known as Project Triangle the capability demonstration was led by Southampton researchers, making use of the coastal patrol and fisheries protection ship.

Professor Andy Keane, from Engineering and the Environment at the University of Southampton, says: "The key to increased use of UAVs is the simple production of low cost and rugged airframes – we believe our pioneering used of 3D printed nylon has advanced design thinking in the UAV community world-wide."

Engineers test fly printed aircraft off warship
SULSA UAV on launch platform. Credit: MOD Crown

It was back in 2011 that University of Southampton engineers initially designed, and flew project SULSA, the world's first entirely "printed" aircraft.

With a wingspan of nearly 1.5 metres, the UAV being trialled has a cruise speed of 50kts (58mph) but can fly almost silently.

The aircraft is printed in four major parts and can be assembled without the use of any tools.

Watching the demonstration was the Royal Navy's Commander Maritime Capability (Aviation), Cdr Bow Wheaton.

He said: "The Royal Navy's Maritime Capability organisation is very interested in conceptual applications of unmanned and highly automated systems.

"We were delighted to assist the University of Southampton with development of their 3D printed and provide a ship for an embarked launch."

On-board footage from SULSA UAV. UAV takes off at 4 minutes 30 seconds. Credit: University of Southampton

Southampton alumnus, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas (Aeronautics, 1980) has championed the Navy's involvement with Project Triangle, which resulted in the opportunity to provide a maritime platform for the test flight.

Adm Zambellas said: "Radical advances in capability often start with small steps. The launch of a 3D-printed aircraft from HMS Mersey is a small glimpse into the innovation and forward thinking that is now embedded in our Navy's approach.

"It's well known that our first squadron of remotely piloted aircraft have proven their worth in the Gulf, providing persistent airborne surveillance across huge areas of sea.

He added that this trial helps explore how simple, automated systems have the potential to replace complex machines.

"We are after more and greater capability in this field which delivers huge value for money. And, because it's new technology, with young people behind it, we're having fun doing it," Adm Zambellas said.

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Citation: Engineers test fly printed aircraft off warship (2015, July 24) retrieved 16 July 2019 from
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Jul 24, 2015
The cameras and engines were 3D printed? Even if this is possible, what is the tactical advantage?

Jul 24, 2015
Even if this is possible, what is the tactical advantage?

You don't have to have it on board. If you need it you don't need to wait until it's shipped in but can create it on the spot (or you can replace losses while staying in your theater of operations). You do have to carry the raw materials, but since they can be shaped into anything a 3D printer can print this makes you a lot more flexible per kg of stuff carried in the hold.

The cameras and engines were 3D printed?

No. It says right there in the article:
"Weighing 3kg and measuring 1.5m the airframe was created on a 3D printer "

Jul 26, 2015
OK, I see this as a first step in an advantage I can not yet clearly see. With 3kg weight and minimal cost, just storing x hundred units (airframes, motors, cameras and other tech/GPS) would be simpler. As a proof of concept for some automated weapon on a larger, more lethal scale; could be. My 'camera and engine' quip was specific tech illiterate attempt at sarcasm. As power sources move to electric and cameras go all digital circuitry, printed 3D assembly will happen.

Without a doubt some PC whiner will also want to wed such a 3D printed drone; or adopt one, at least.

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