Thor is made entirely from 3D-printed parts except for its electric motors and radio control system

3D-printed Airbus drone takes to the skies

Airbus has unveiled a drone called Thor that has been created from 3D printed parts.

The windowless drone weighs just 21kg and is four metres in length, with a wingspan of similar size.

Airbus revealed its new drone at the International Aerospace Exhibition and Air Show at Berlin's southern Schoenefeld airport.

Thor differentiates itself by being the first drone to be almost entirely created using a 3D printer.

With the exception of its two electric motors and its radio control system, all the rest of the aircraft has been printed from a substance called polyamide.

Although the limited size of current printers has necessitated the production of just under 50 individual components to make Thor, mass adoption of the technology could lead to larger printers that could create such an aircraft from fewer printed parts in future.

“By 2025 we will be able to use printers to produce bionic aircraft structures“, said Peter Sander, who is responsible for new technology at Airbus Germany.

The drone's name, Thor, is derived from ‘Test of High-Tech Objectives in Reality’ which refers to the fact that the aircraft enables early in-flight testing of new types of wings and control surfaces, which can be rapidly printed and replaced.

Detlev Konigorski, one of the developers of Thor, said that it demonstrated the power of what 3D printers are capable of.

"We want to see if we can speed up the development process by using 3D printing not just for individual parts but for an entire system,” he said.

Other team members who worked on Thor said that it ‘flies beautifully’ and was very stable while in the air.

Airbus has already started using 3D printing to make parts for their larger passenger jets such as the A350 and B787 Dreamliner.

It even demonstrated the world’s first spacecraft thruster which contained 3D printed parts last June.

"The printed pieces have the advantage of requiring no tools and that they can be made very quickly," Jens Henzler of Bavaria-based Hofmann Innovation Group told Phys.org.

He said that the process allows the metal parts to be produced 30-50 per cent lighter than in the past while eliminating a lot of manufacturing waste that is produced using traditional methods.

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