European airliner maker Airbus has designed, built and flown an entirely 3D printed unmanned air vehicle (UAV) which it has designated Thor. This was reported by Airbus head of emerging technologies & concepts Peter Sander at the Innovation Days 2016 media conference on Monday in Hamburg.
Thor is an acronym for Test of High-tech Objectives in Reality.
"Thor is a test platform for high risk investigations," said Sander. These will be aerodynamic investigations. "We will prove the concept and establish if it works, or not." Different aerodynamic concepts can be tested using a 3D printed UAV which can be designed and built in a matter of weeks instead of months, using conventional processes and at a much lower cost than a conventionally made UAV.
A 3D printed aircraft can also be more rapidly and easily optimized than a conventionally built one. The Thor aircraft is about 4 m in length and with a wingspan that is also some 4 m. It has a mass of 25 kg.
"You can [3D] print this kind of aircraft in four weeks," he stated in his presentation. "It has low lead times for fast track developments." It was test flown in November and the company plans 18 missions for the Thor UAV this year. Thor is part of Airbus's drive to develop 3D printing, more formally known as additive layer manufacturing (ALM), as a tool to improve future production processes and product support services.