3-D Printing Project Leads to UAV Design Project

Engineering students pursue drone technology.

A pair of students at the University of Virginia posted a YouTube video of a “printed” plastic turbofan engine. The video led to a summer job designing a new unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for the Army. They used what’s called three-dimensional “printing,” a technology that produces actual objects, such as aircraft or engine parts, using a machine that traces layers of molten plastic in shapes defined by computer drawings.

Steven Easter and Jonathan Turman, both third-year engineering students at the university, signed on with Mitre Corp. for a three month project designing the UAV, which has a wingspan of six and a half feet and cruises at 45 mph.

Their adviser at U.Va., professor David Sheffler, is a 20-year aerospace industry veteran. He said of their original turbofan projects, “To make a plastic turbofan engine to scale five years ago would have taken two years at a cost of about $250,000. But with 3-D printing, we designed and built it in four months for about $2,000.”

Easter said the UAV project at Mitre was, “a sort of seat-of-the-pants thing at first. But we kept baning away and became more confident as we kept designing and printing out new parts.”