3D-printed aircraft trialled off UK Royal Navy’s warship


HMS Mersey

Researchers from the University of Southampton have trialled a 3D-printed aircraft off the UK Royal Navy's warship, HMS Mersey.

Called Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft (SULSA), the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was developed using sintered nylon on a 3D printer.

Launched from HMS Mersey into the Wyke Regis Training Facility in Weymouth, the UAV flight covered 500m before landing on Chesil Beach.

Royal Navy Maritime Capability (Aviation) commander Bow Wheaton said: "The Royal Navy's Maritime Capability organisation is very interested in conceptual applications of unmanned and highly automated systems."

The flight is part of an effort to evaluate the possibility of using small lightweight UAVs in a maritime environment.

The 1.5m-long aircraft features a small video camera to record its flight. It has a cruise speed of 50k.

"The launch of a 3D-printed aircraft from HMS Mersey is a small glimpse into the innovation and forward thinking that is now embedded in our navy's approach."

Southampton researchers monitored the flight from their UAV control van. The capability demonstration is part of Project Triangle.

University of Southampton engineering and the environment professor Andy Keane said: "The key to increased use of UAVs is the simple production of low-cost and rugged airframes - we believe our pioneering used of 3D printed nylon has advanced design thinking in the UAV community world-wide."

Southampton alumnus, First Sea Lord Admiral George Zambellas said: "The launch of a 3D-printed aircraft from HMS Mersey is a small glimpse into the innovation and forward thinking that is now embedded in our navy's approach.

"It's well known that our first squadron of remotely piloted aircraft have proven their worth in the Gulf, providing persistent airborne surveillance across huge areas of sea."


Image: SULSA UAV launches from HMS Mersey. Photo: courtesy of University of Southampton.