3D printed drone launched from warship

A team of engineers from the University of Southampton launched a 3D printed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from the bow of a Royal Navy warship in a bid to demonstrate the potential use of lightweight drones at sea.

After being launched from HMS Mersey off the Dorset coast in the south of England, the UAV was flown autonomously on a pre-programmed route for a few before landing on Chesil Beach.

Known as the Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft (SULSA), the drone weighed 3kg with a wing-span of nearly 1.5 meters. The airframe was created on a 3D printer using laser sintered nylon, which uses a laser to fuse nylon powder into solid structures. It’s printed in four major parts and can be assembled without the use of any tools.

After being catapulted from the bow of the warship, it flew roughly 500 meters around the tidal lagoon of Wyke Regis Training Facility in Weymouth before coming into land.

The research was led by scientists and engineers from the University of Southampton under the name Project Triangle. In 2011, they initially tested the world’s first entirely “printed” aircraft.

Professor Andy Keane, from Engineering and the Environment at the University of Southampton, said the use of UAVs will continue to increase as production costs shrink and materials become more reliable. Their rugged airframes and use of 3D printed nylon, he said, advanced design thinking in the UAV community.

Officials from the Royal Navy said that they were interested in conceptual applications of unmanned and highly automated systems. They said that this trail helps explore how simple, automated systems have the potential to replace complex machines.