THOR—A Lightweight Mini-Plane Fresh Out Of The 3D Printer
The future of aviation is now here……Introducing Thor, the world’s first aircraft to be produced using 3D printing technology. Airbus, a leading aircraft manufacturer, has just unleashed THOR which stands for Test of High-tech Objectives In Reality, a miniature aircraft constructed from 3d printing technology. The plane is a windowless, pilotless, propeller driven aircraft that weighs 21 kgs, and measures less than 4m long. THOR is capable of stable flight and even promises to save on time, fuel and money.
The majority of THOR’s parts are made out of a 3D printer from a substance called polyamide. The only parts of the plane that aren’t printed are its electrical elements. 3D printing technology presents many benefits in the field of aviation. Jens Henzler of the Hoffmann Innovation Group, a leading supplier of automotive plastic components says, “The printed pieces have the advantage of requiring no tools and they can be made very quickly.” The metal components created from 3D printing technology are lighter than traditionally manufactured parts and they also eliminate manufacturing waste and cut manufacturing costs. The lighter materials from 3D printing mean less jet fuel will be used, causing less pollution. The little plane ‘flies beautifully, it is very stable,” said its chief engineer Gunnar Haase, who conducted Thor’s inaugural flight last November near the northern German city of Hamburg.
The Airbus innovators also revealed that the technology has proven to be an excellent weight-saving solution. 3D printing thin layers of power material has enable them to optimize part design and minimize material use. The most important in aviation is the cost factor, and this could be a crucial innovation. “It brings big cost reductions on parts manufacturing,” said Alain Charmeau, head of Airbus Safran Launchers.
Thor resembles a model airplane when it was revealed at the International Aerospace Exhibition and Air Show at Berlin’s Schoenefeld airport. The developer in charge of Thor, Detlev Konigorski, says it’s a test of what can be made possible thanks to 3D technology. “We want to see if we can speed up the development process by using 3D printing not just for individual parts but for an entire system,” he says.
Thor marks a pioneering step in the integration of 3D printing technologies in the aerospace industry, a step which could result in a higher level of time, cost, and fuel efficiency. Though this pilotless propeller aircraft is a first in aviation technology, the sky is not the limit for the technology – engineers also plan to use it in space.