A Tornado jet during a trial of 3D printed components

Fighter jets fly with 3D printed parts

Tornado fighter jets have flown with 3D printed parts for the first time, a development that promises to slash the cost of repairs.

BAE Systems has revealed that 3D printed components created by its engineers at RAF Marham were successfully flown from the company’s airfield at Warton in Lancashire.

The company’s combat engineering team is using 3D printing to engineer ready-made parts for supply to four Squadrons of Tornado GR4 aircraft – including protective covers for Tornado cockpit radios, support struts on the air intake door and protective guards for power take-off shafts.

With some of the parts costing less than £100 per piece to manufacture, 3D printing has already resulted in savings of more than £300,000 and could offer further cost savings of more than £1.2m for the RAF between now and 2017.

Mike Murray, Head of Airframe Integration at BAE Systems said: “You are suddenly not fixed in terms of where you have to manufacture these things. 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.”

Visit the E&T Magazine Facebook page for a video about BAE Systems' 3D printing process.

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