Feb. 22, 2015 | By Alec

When it comes to 3D printing fun electronic toys, quadcopters have been in charge for a very long time. It has come to a point where you can check out a new design, iteration of action video of a quadcopter every time you visit a 3D printing site. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – they’re a lot of fun to play with – but it’s also great to see that the Canadian André Roy has gone into an entirely different direction by designing the OpenSwift: a very cool 3D printed RC flying wing.

As André explained to 3ders.org, he is a mechanical engineer from Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada. Having always been interested in fluid dynamics, computing and robotics – and therefore planes! – he decided to try his hand at 3D modelling and open source creation. "I bought myself a hobbyist CNC router for cutting balsa and other woods. But it was LOUD and I live in an apartment, and had neighbours. I wound up selling it and bought a Replicator 2 to experiment with making models using it," he tells us. The idea of 3D printing a flying wing therefore naturally came to him. "I've always day dreamed about flying things since I was a very young child. It's an aspect of my father that has rubbed off on me at an early age," André explains.

Of course, 3D printing airplanes isn’t exactly new, but he believes there is a lot of added value in sharing his projects online; especially where education is involved. "I believe I am still forging new ground here in fusing traditional built-up construction with 3D printing. I'm trying to show others how feasible this technique is," he tells us. "I want to encourage people to generate more models and also open source their files too. I want to print and build a P-51 which I didn't have to design! Also, I would like to mention that part of what makes this idea exciting is that anyone in any remote location, given a 3D printer and a few raw materials like balsa can produce as many of these as required for their job."

But André’s approach is also quite original. Instead of 3D printing solid (which are very heavy) or hollow (no strong enough) shapes, he is trying to use 3D printers to recreate the traditional construction technique of balsa or plywood planes. "I hadn't seen anyone do this at this point and all of the 3D printed airplanes I saw were 3D printed skin and all which is a heavy construction technique."

You can see André talk about his design approach here.

This fortunately got the attention of Brook Drum of Printrbot. "We got to talking and he wound up giving me a Printrbot Go Large to support me with my work exploring aero modelling with 3D printers," André reveals. "It's huge! 600mmx300mm (2'x1') build plate which I recently upgraded the build plate with a silicone heater. That's how the project started."

And its progressing well. André designed his Swift RC in Draftsight. "I then imported my drawings in a parametric modeller called ALibre 2012 PE (now Geomagic Design)." However, this took quite a while, as CAD design isn’t Andre’s strong suit (in his words, his tools suck). "The worst part about drafting in 2D is making significant changes can be quite labour intensive. I found 2D drafting was the optimal tool though for this type of modelling as most parts are extruded 2D profiles.  I'm sure one day someone will show me a better modelling technique." André added.

All of the parts have then been 3D printed in PLA filament on his Replicator 2 and the massive Printrbot Go Large. "I use a few other materials to finish a model: balsa (skin), shrink wrap (monokote/ultrakote), carbon fiber spars. So my design is "mostly" 3D printed," he says. And as this is an open source project at heart, you can find the OpenSwift beta release files here. While still a prototype, the design is remarkably light. Even with the servos and 350W motor that power it, the whole contraption only ways 650 grams.

But of course the biggest test is flying itself, which has proven to be a trail-and-error process of its own; the first prototype crashed after just a few take off attempts. "I miscalculated where I should've placed the center of gravity. No biggy, I corrected the mistake and now I'm 3D printing a 2nd prototype!" These and a few other problems have since been fixed for the second iteration, that will be tested as soon as the weather permits it.

While not  yet perfected, the OpenSwift flying wing is thus coming together as a great and very impressive project, and we can’t wait to see a clip of a successful flight session. If you’d like to try constructing one for yourself, you can find all the help you need at the OpenRC Google+ community, where André himself is around to offer guidance. You can also check out his own blog circuitgrove.com for more info.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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Mark Vios wrote at 10/24/2017 12:46:42 AM:

I have the same idea. Print the ribs and use carbon fiber rods forstiffener. The cover with monocote. Did you have any problems with PLA being heat sensitive when covering or sitting in the sun? What about using carbon fiber tube for leading edge? Do you think PLA is best or maybe PETG or Pollycarbonate? mark.v47@gmail.com

yru wrote at 2/26/2015 1:35:09 AM:

played a bit with similar but faster to print and assemble concept. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5ZcPtWDa2E

hhhoee wrote at 2/24/2015 3:45:52 AM:

нахуя это печатать-то? из фанеры и то лучше будет

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