The technological marvel may have been dwarfed by the other huge jets surrounding it, but mini-plane Thor stood out at the Berlin air show this week being the world’s first 3D-printed aircraft.
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This European aerospace giant, Airbus’ creation is windowless, weighing just 21 kilos (46 pounds) and less than four metres (13 feet) long and closely resembles a large, white model airplane.
The 3D-printed aircraft, Thor is short for ‘Test of High-tech Objectives in Reality’ and the pilotless propeller aircraft is certainly a glimpse of future aviation realities that may see 3D printing technology enabling the industry save time, fuel and money.
Detlev Konigorski, who was in charge of developing Thor for Airbus, speaking at the International Aerospace Exhibition and Air Show at Berlin’s southern Schoenefeld airport said;
“This is a test of what’s possible with 3D printing technology, we want to see if we can speed up the development process by using 3D printing not just for individual parts but for an entire system.”
For Thor, the only part that was not printed from the substance called polyamide are the electrical elements and its chief engineer Gunnar Haase, who conducted Thor’s inaugural flight last November near the northern German city of Hamburg, boasts that the plane is stable and flies beautifully.
Airbus, along with US company Boeing, is already 3D printing parts for passenger jets the A350 and B787 Dreamliner. Experts state that 3D printing is cheaper than alternatives and allows for almost no manufacturing waste, as such there are already plans to use it to print parts for the Ariane 6 rocket which the European Space Agency is launching in 2020.
The lighter materials which are obtainable from 3D printing also means less jet fuel will be used, causing less pollution, which is a major concern among those who say air traffic is expected to double in the next 20 years.