LONDON – A Tornado fighter jet fitted with metal components created on a 3D printer undertook a successful test flight in Britain last month, defence company BAE Systems said Sunday.
The plane was equipped with a 3D-printed protective cover for the cockpit radio, a protective guard in the landing gear and support struts on the air intake door, the British firm said.
The announcement follows NASA’s successful test of a 3D-printed rocket engine component in August last year, as aerospace companies seek cheaper and quicker ways to manufacture engineering parts.
“You are suddenly not fixed in terms of where you have to manufacture these things,” said Mike Murray, Head of Airframe Integration at BAE Systems, announcing the successful test flight at the firm’s airfield in Warton, northwest England.
“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.”
BAE said some of the parts — produced at a Royal Air Force base in eastern England — cost less than £100 ($165, 120 euros) to manufacture, and had the potential to save hundreds of thousands of pounds every year, without giving details.