"Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail."
- Henry David Thoreau
The PTERA research aircraft was created to bridge the data gap between wind tunnel testing and manned flight. The company who made it, Area-I, says it's a "low-risk, low-cost platform to flight test high-risk technologies such as advanced aerodynamic treatments, GNC systems, acoustic research, and sensor management systems."
Calling themselves an "avant-garde aerospace research company," the metro-Atlanta, Georgia firm focuses on technologies to enhance aircraft performance and capability through the use of advanced aerodynamics, guidance systems, simulations, and sensing technologies.
Now in partnership with Solid Concepts, Area-I has created their scale model of a Boeing 737 and they're using it to simulate real-world aerodynamics without the real-world risks.
Dubbed the Prototype Technology Evaluation and Research Aircraft (PTERA), this incredible model is sent aloft packed with sensors and flight test measurement systems to send back real-time data under actual flight conditions.
"We used to shy away from certain complex designs, opting for more basic structures," Alley said. "With additive manufacturing, we can now create even the most complicated designs. It's completely opened up design capabilities that we wouldn't be able to make with any other manufacturing method."
Essentially a scaled-down version of a 737, Area-I intends to use the findings from flight tests of the craft to simplify and improve aircraft technology. The engineers at the company say 3D printing gives them the freedom to experiment and rapidly prototype their ideas in a streamlined process.
With ailerons, the fuel tank, control surfaces and flaps all created via Selective Laser Sintering, the PTERA includes parts which have complex geometries. Using SLS NyTek 1200 CF (carbon filled Nylon 12) to 3D print integral features of the PTERA, Solid Concepts created extremely lightweight parts. Alley says that while hand-built ailerons would take fully 24 man hours to create, the entire design, build and assembly cycle using SLS took just three days.
SLS fuses material together via a heated build chamber and a laser. The laser sinters the powder in patterns determined by design files, and as each layer is done, the build platform moves down until the final product is completed.