Building model airplanes – and cars, and ships, and trains, or other model modes of transportation – is an art form that some enthusiasts fear is dying as classic crafts are being taken over by newer, more high-tech pursuits. I doubt that traditional model-building will ever completely vanish, but the craft has been transformed – and some would say revitalized – by 3D printing. Companies like 3DLabPrint, which designs and sells high-quality 3D files of historically accurate model airplanes for printing, are proving that the art form may be changing, but it’s still alive and well.
The Czech company has created a sizable collection of 3D printable model planes based on historical aircraft. Meticulously researched and designed, the models include well-known 20th century fighter planes such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109 H/F, the P51-D Mustang, the Spitfire Mark XVI, and more. The latest addition to their catalog is the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, an American fighter plane flown in World War II.
The model, which has a wingspan of 1410 mm (55.5 in) is available for download from 3DLabPrint for $40. As founder Stepan Dokoupil tells 3DPrint.com, the team spent a lot of time on the plane’s design and development. Features include retractable and steerable landing gear, flaps for more effective takeoff and landing, and inbuild bowden lines for twin rudders, ailerons and elevator. This model also contains several general improvements to make printing and assembling it more user-friendly, although it will still be a nicely challenging project.
“We still trying move things further, so also this project is full of other improvements for better durability, easier assembly, better geometry solution and so on…we hope you enjoy it, although this print may test your competencies to and quality of your printer (welcome to thin wall printing),” states the 3DLabPrint team.
Like 3DLabPrint’s other model airplanes, the Lockheed P-38 Lightning was designed for home desktop 3D printers, so all files are prepared for home printing with universal STL files and settings for Simplify3D, Cura, and MatterControl. The plane is designed to be strong and durable yet lightweight, with structural reinforcement in both the wings and fuselage that keep its shape rigid. No tools are needed for assembly; it can all be glued together. Once you’ve 3D printed the plane itself, you just need to purchase the servos, ESC, brushless motor and radio system.
Step-by-step instructions are included with the plane in both PDF and video form. 3DLabPrint recommends printing in PLA with a heated bed, and you’ll need a printer with a build area of at least 195 x 195 x 150 mm. As you can see from the video below, the finished Lightning flies very well; according to 3DLabPrint, you should be able to fly it for at least seven straight minutes at full throttle with speeds exceeding 110 kph.
The Lockheed P-58 Lightning is pricier than 3DLabPrint’s other models, which are mostly priced at around $20. However, it’s also clearly their most complex model, and its design looks like it’s the highest-quality one yet. 3DLabPrint’s models were always good, but it looks like their designers’ skills are improving even more. If you’re a model airplane enthusiast, this may be a great challenge to take on for your next project. Discuss in the 3DLabPrint forum at 3DPB.com.