Engineers Test Fly 3D-Printed Aircraft Off British Royal Navy ship

And it was a success.

A 3D-printed aircraft developed by engineers from the University of Southampton was successfully launched off the front of a Royal Navy warship. The SULSA unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) landed safely on a Dorset beach.

The flight began off the HMS Mersey ship into the Wyke Regis Training Facility in Weymouth and covered about 550 yards of territory. Although it only lasted a few minutes, it demonstrated the potential use of lightweight UAVs that could be easily launched at sea.

The 3d-printed UAV launches from HMS Mersey. (Image via Southampton University)
The 3d-printed UAV launches from HMS Mersey. (Image via Southampton University)


At the time of its launch, the aircraft carried a small video camera to record footage from its flight for Southampton researchers to monitor.

The 6.5 lb-craft was constructed using a 3D printer and  laser sintered nylon in four major parts so that it could be assembled without any tools.

“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,” said Professor Andy Keane from Engineering and the Environment at the University of Southampton.

The SULSA aircraft was initially designed and flown back in 2011 by University of Southampton engineers. The world’s first entirely “printed” aircraft had just a 5-foot wingspan but could fly almost silently.

“The Royal Navy’s Maritime Capability organisation is very interested in conceptual applications of unmanned and highly automated systems,” said Royal Navy’s Commander Maritime Capability (Aviation), Cdr Bow Wheaton.

The Royal Navy believes this trial launch helps explore how automated systems could potentially replace complex machines, a concept it is already implementing. Its first squadron of remotely piloted aircraft currently provides constant airborne surveillance in the Gulf.

Watch on-board footage from the launch.

Story via Southampton University.

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