Dwarfed by huge jets all around, the mini-plane Thor was nonetheless an eye-catcher at the Berlin air show this week — the small Airbus marvel is the world’s first 3D-printed aircraft.
Windowless, weighing in at just 21 kilos (46 pounds) and less than four metres (13 feet) long, the drone Thor — short for ‘Test of High-tech Objectives in Reality’ — resembles a large, white model airplane.
Yet to the European aerospace giant Airbus, the small pilotless propeller aircraft is a pioneer that offers a taste of things to come — an aviation future when 3D printing technology promises to save time, fuel and money.
‘This is a test of what’s possible with 3D printing technology,’ said Detlev Konigorski, who was in charge of developing Thor for Airbus, speaking at the International Aerospace Exhibition
and Air Show at Berlin’s southern Schoenefeld airport.
‘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.’
In Thor, the only parts that are not printed from a substance called polyamide are the electrical elements.
The little plane ‘flies beautifully, it is very stable,’ said its chief engineer Gunnar Haase, who conducted Thor’s inaugural flight last November near the northern German city of Hamburg.
Airbus and its US rival Boeing are already using 3D printing, notably to make parts for their huge passenger jets the
A350 and B787 Dreamliner