When the University of Southampton produced the world'sfirst 3D printed UAV in conjunction with British additive manufacturer3T RPD their success put them directly on the radar of other companies wanting to achieve the same thing. So, when theBBC decided they wanted their own 3D printed drone to capture aerial footage for their documentaries, they approached Southampton and asked them to cooperate. As a result, a 3D printed UAS was born.
The BBC ran a viewer contest to decide the name and graphic design of the UAS. Izzy Bennett, 11, from Exwick in Exeter won with her idea for a colorful wing design and chose to name the craft the "iflyer." The iflyer has a wingspan of 4.2 m and a total length of 2.6 m. It can reach maximum speeds of 42.5 mph and cruise for up to two hours at 24.5 mph. The majority of the plane consists of 3D printed parts including: the main and rear fuselage, wing tips, nose cone, the camera mounting and a cross section of the wings. It can even stream live HD footage directly to a computer on the ground.
The BBC planned to begin using the iFlyer after obtaining Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) clearance. Unfortunately, at the time the BBC was not able to obtain clearance. "The BBC ended the iFlyer project after it proved impossible to gain regulatory clearance for operations beyond the successful test flights," Ant Miller, BBC's Senior Research Manager said. "The aircraft was not scrapped, but returned to the University of Southampton for further development in their academic programs. The research project was worthwhile in that it gave us a deep and solid knowledge base on which to ground further UAS efforts and the BBC now has qualified pilots and a permit for aerial work with UAS technology, though we now focus on rotary rather than fixed wing tech."
You can take a look at Ant Miller from the BBC discussing several of their UAV projects (including the iflyer) below:
An earlier version of this article stated the BBC had obtained clearance for their iflyer and then scrapped the project. This was incorrect. At the time, the BBC was not able to gain regulatory clearance for operations beyond the iflyer's first successful test flights. This is the reason they chose to end the project. The iflyer was not scrapped but instead was sent back to the University of Southampton. The BBC has since received regulatory clearance but has chosen to focus their efforts on a new UAS design.