Tornado fighter jets take off with 3D-printed functional components


January 6, 2014

Tornado aircraft have flown with 3D-printed functional components on board for the first time (Photo: BAE Systems)

Tornado aircraft have flown with 3D-printed functional components on board for the first time (Photo: BAE Systems)

Aerospace is one of the industries set to benefit from the 3D printing revolution, with last year's test of 3D-printed rocket engine components by NASA being just one example of the shape of things to come. Now BAE Systems has revealed that 3D-printed functional components designed and produced by engineers at the Royal Air Force (RAF) Marham military airbase have flown for the first time in Tornado fighter jets taking off from BAE Systems' company airfield at Warton in Lancashire.

Although the specific components fitted to the aircraft weren't revealed, BAE Systems says its Combat Engineering team is developing ready-made 3D printed parts, including protective covers for cockpit radios, support struts on the air intake door and protective guards for power take-off shafts, which are intended to supply four squadrons of Tornado GR4 aircraft.

The move is expected to cut repair, maintenance and service costs to the RAF by more than £1.2 million (US$1.97 million) over the next four years. With some parts costing less than £100 (US$165) a piece to manufacture, BAE Systems says 3D printing technology has already provided savings of more than £300,000 (US$492,000).

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

Source: BAE Systems

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick
1 Comment

Cool. I'm for anything that keeps these old birds in service.

Pretty amazing this new way of making stuff is paired with something more interesting than just the latest gizmos.

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