When it comes to military uses for 3D printing, the last two years have been somewhat of a breakthrough window for the technology. In the US, virtually every branch of the military is using 3D printing to some extent, and it doesn’t end there. Just last month we’ve learned that both the British and Israeli militaries are exploring the technology as well. The Israelis are 3D printing on-demand drones, while the British reportedly launched a 3D printed drone from a Naval vessel. As the technology advances, and new applications emerge, this trend will only continue to widen.
In fact, this weekend it was revealed that Alenia Aermacchi, an Italian aerospace company and subsidiary of Finmeccanica, has successfully conducted the first flight tests for the C-27J battlefield airlifter, which featured a set of newly designed winglets. What made these winglets particularly interesting to us is that several of their components had been 3D printed.
The winglets, which are an extension of the C-27J Spartan tactical airlifter’s current wingtips, were produced in order to improve upon the flight performance of the aircraft, which according to the company was already superb. The winglets increase the lift-drag ratio and supposedly will extend the performance gap between the C-27J and competing aircraft. Additional performance benefits will include increased endurance, range, and payload, and decreased operating costs. The flight tests, which occurred approximately two and a half weeks ago at Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi’s Turin-Caselle facility in Italy, were a major success.
The C-27J Spartan is a mid-sized transport aircraft which is powered by two AE 2100D3 turboshaft engines. It can be utilized for multiple mission types which include logistic support of military units, cargo transportation, electronic surveillance, search and rescue and fire fighting, and in April the very first C-27J aircraft was delivered to the Peruvian Air Force (FAP).
Alenia Aermacchi says that because of the success of these latest flight tests they now plan on fitting numerous other models of aircraft with these partially 3D printed winglets. This includes their battlefield airlifter, in addition to their gunship and surveillance variants, which are currently under development.
The ability for 3D printing to change the way crucial parts of such aircraft are manufactured and iterated upon certainly bodes well for the safety and efficiency of future aircraft, both for civilian and military uses.
Let us know your thoughts on Alenia Aermacchi ‘s use of 3D printing for these new winglets in the 3D Printed C-27J Winglet forum thread on 3DPB.com.