Engineers from Boeing Phantom Works in Philadelphia are working to improve the design of Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) Vehicles like helicopters. Thanks to additive manufacturing technology they were able to create a working VTOL prototype, the Phantom Swift, in under thirty days. There was a rush on the project because the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is about to issue a call for VTOL proposals. There is $130 million in shared funding on the line for research teams who can produce faster and more efficient VTOL models.
The engineers at Boeing decided a small working prototype would be just the thing to really make their proposal shine. "A picture is worth a thousand words, a flying model is worth a million words. No matter what words you put in a proposal, having hardware that you can demonstrate that they can tangibly see what's being proposed goes a long way toward winning that proposal," said Perry Ziegenbein, Phantom Swift's chief engineer. According to the official DARPA schedule a flight test and demonstration isn't required until Phase III, so the engineers at Boeing are way ahead of the game. Thanks to rapid prototyping they have a working model to show off right from the start; a move that may give them an edge when it comes to securing funding.
In the past, pulling the project together would have taken far longer than a month. According to Michael Mikuszewski, a composites expert for Boeing Research and Technology, it was the use of additive manufacturing that really pushed things along. "This is what we graduate college hoping to do. Having this experience and opportunity to do it is fantastic," he said. "Rapid prototyping is the wave of the future, I guess you could say."
You can take a look at the Phantom Swift in flight here:
The Phantom Swift isn't the only aircraft taking to the skies thanks to 3D printing. The University of Southampton is building UAVs and a hobbyist from the Netherlands has created a 3D printed "Drone-It-Yourself" kit that lets everyday objects take flight.