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Airbus’ THOR Proves Planes Can Be 3D Printed

airbus thor on displayWe’ve seen 3D printed shoes. And braces. And prosthetics. And even cars! But one thing we’ve yet to see is a 3D printed plane.

Until today. Well, Monday to be precise. That’s when international plane manufacturer Airbus revealed Airbus THOR, a plane that’s–you guessed it–3D printed.

THOR, pictured in the image attached to this blog post, is a small, 13-foot plane complete with engine mountings and propellors. As PC Magazine notes, the plane is entirely 3D printed except for its electrical components. It’s an impressive piece of machinery, even if it is significantly smaller than a traditional plane.

If you’re wondering when we’re going to see 3D printed planes lining the skies and landing in our airports, the short (and sad) answer is that it will probably be a while. Airbus mostly printed THOR as a proof of concept, and as a test of what’s possible with 3D printing technology. “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,” said THOR project head Detlev Konigorski to the AFP.

Though some plane manufacturers already use 3D printed parts in manufacturing, there are still many areas–especially in aging planes–that could stand to benefit from 3D printed components. Many small aircraft parts suitable for 3D printing are quite expensive to source up, which means that 3D printing could make the process less expensive and also less time-consuming.

Though it may be a while before we step off the skybridge and into a 3D printed plane, this small proof of concept at least points to a future where such a thing may be possible. Today, Airbus THOR; tomorrow, 3D printed 747!

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