A variable wing geometry, two-seat, day or night attack aircraft capable of delivering a wide variety of weapons, the Tornado GR4 is powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce RB 199 Mk 103 turbofan engines. Designed for low-level supersonic flight, the Tornado uses Terrain Following Radar and Forward Looking InfraRed to do its deadly business in nearly any weather conditions.
The first Tornados were developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a consortium of companies which included BAE, MBB of West Germany, and Aeritalia of Italy. Used by the Royal Air Force, Italian Air Force and RSAF during the 1991 Gulf War, the Tornado conducted low-altitude strike missions and the aircraft were also used heavily during the Bosnian War and Kosovo War, the Iraq War, the Libyan civil war and took small roles in fighting over Afghanistan and Yemen.
Now Mike Murray, Head of Airframe Integration Systems at aerospace giant BAE Systems, says his company has test flown a Tornado equipped with parts made with 3D metal printing equipment.
The parts included a protective cover for the radio, a landing-gear guard and air-intake door support struts, and Murray says this test is a demonstration of how, in the very near future, maintenance crews will be able to make replacement parts quickly – and cheaply – at any air base hosting the Tornado.
BAE says some of the parts cost less than $165 per piece to manufacture, and that overall, 3D printing has already resulted in savings of more than $450,000. According to Murray, the 3D printing process could ultimately lead to potential cost savings of more than $1.9 million between now and 2017.
"You are suddenly not fixed in terms of where you have to manufacture," Murray said. "You can manufacture the products at 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 Systems says the test flight took place at the company's airfield in Warton, in the northwest of England.
BAE is also responsible for the design and manufacture of the Eurofighter Typhoon jet and works on the construction of Britain's most current submarines and aircraft carriers.
A Tornado G4 Mission over Libya: