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World's first 'printed' aircraft flies

July 28, 2011 at 9:02 PM

SOUTHAMPTON, England, July 28 (UPI) -- Engineers at a British university say they've designed and flown the first "printed" aircraft, an unmanned air vehicle whose entire structure has been printed.

The Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft was printed on a nylon laser sintering machine that can fabricate plastic or metal objects by "printing" them in a 3D fashion, building up the item layer by layer, a university release said Thursday.

The SULSA aircraft uses no fasteners, relying on "snap fit" techniques so the entire aircraft can be assembled without tools in minutes, engineers said. The 6-foot-wingspan propeller-driven aircraft is powered by batteries and can reach a top speed of almost 100 mph.

The engineers said laser sintering allows shapes and structures that would normally involve costly traditional manufacturing techniques to be created quickly and inexpensively.

Construction that would normally take months -- using conventional materials and manufacturing techniques, such as composites -- is replaced by technology that allows a highly-tailored aircraft to be developed from concept to first flight in days, they said.

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