Fighter jets fly for first time with 3D printed parts

Posted on 6 Jan 2014 by Tim Brown

BAE Systems has revealed that 3D printed components, created by its engineers, have flown for the first time on-board Tornado fighter jets, paving the way for using 3D printed parts in other military kit.

The 3D metal parts were successfully used in test flights from the Company’s airfield at Warton in Lancashire.

Engineers designing and producing 3D printed components at RAF Marham.

Engineers are designing and producing 3D printed functional components at RAF Marham, which will cut the cost of repairs, maintenance and service to the Royal Air Force to the tune of more than £1.2 million over the next four years.

The Company’s Combat Engineering team is using 3D printing to engineer ready-made parts for supply to four Squadrons of Tornado GR4 aircraft – including protective covers for Tornado cockpit radios, support struts on the air intake door and protective guards for Power Take-off shafts.

With some of the parts costing less than £100 per piece to manufacture, 3D printing has already resulted in savings of more than £300,000 and will offer further potential cost savings of more than £1.2 million between now and 2017.

Mike Murray, Head of Airframe Integration at BAE Systems said: “You are suddenly not fixed in terms of where you have to manufacture these things. You can manufacture the products and whatever base you want, providing you can get a machine there, which means you can also start to support other platforms such as ships and aircraft carriers.

“And if it’s feasible to get machines out on the front line, it also gives improved capability where we wouldn’t traditionally have any manufacturing support.”