Apr. 22, 2015 | By Simon

Among the many applications for 3D printing, the ability to rebuild or replicate existing three-dimensional structures for use in testing, simulation or demonstrations is perhaps amongst the most fascinating.  Whether the application is for creating a replica of a body part to be used as a visualization guide prior to a surgical procedure or for recreating lost or damaged pieces of historical art, the possibilities are nearly endless.

Of all the examples however, one of the more recent uses of additive manufacturing technology to create a replica of an existing object is perhaps one of the most unusual cases that most have likely heard about.  

A group of researchers from the Tongji University College of Aerospace Engineering and Applied Mechanics in Shanghai, China recently decided to recreate some historical Mayan relics that were expected to be over 1,000 years old.  However, these weren’t just any old relics - these actually looked like airplanes and were made long before airplanes even existed.  

A significant design feature on the small relics - which measure in at a tiny 150mm x 125mm - includes a vertical stabilizer seen on modern aircrafts.  Due to some conspiracy theorists who believe that the Mayan culture might have been more intelligent than today’s humans and/or supported by extraterrestrial beings, this single feature has raised a lot of questions.

Aiming to help figure out whether these relics could actually fly or not, the researchers at the college decided to test the feasibility of the design by scaling them up and reproducing the designs accurately using a combination of 3D printing and laser cutting.

To begin, the team modeled the small relics in CAD and then printed the models at a scale of 10:1 using an FFF-based 3D printer to use as a reference guide for a larger model that would be 25 times larger than the original relics.  

To create the interior support structure for the larger aircraft, the team split up the sections into components that could be made on the laser cutter.  With this data, the team also took the opportunity to utilize various simulation tools and tested the aircraft in a virtual environment for weak spots and overall structural strength.   

When they had finished assembling the remote controlled final model, the design featured a wingspan of over 1.5 meters that was propelled by a two-blade wooden propeller and was powered by an 18.5V lithium battery.  

However the biggest test was yet to come - would the final design fly?

Yesterday, April 21st, the team was able to put the airplane design to the test - and wouldn't you know it - the plane actually had a successful test flight. Just minutes into the flight, the ancient Mayan airplane design was even capable of making complicated nosedive and side-flying stunt moves, among others before landing safely back on the ground.

"The aerodynamic performance analysis shows that this ancient aircraft design has very good aerodynamic performance and stability." said Shen Haijun, a lead researcher on the project.

"The purpose of this project was to recreate an ancient aircraft and hopefully reveal its true origin while also showcasing the magic of ancient human civilization and their contribution to aircraft design (translated)."

Whether or not the aerodynamic performance of the aircraft can be tied back to the Mayan civilization from centuries ago or whether it’s just pure coincidence is up for speculation, but if nothing else - the project is a great example of how 3D printing can be used in just about any application to create replicas for testing, simulation and demonstrations.  



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


Maybe you also like:


William M. wrote at 2/1/2019 7:44:27 PM:

It's interesting to see the Chinese students, in their commentary, talk about the impression of some that the Mayans were primitive, somehow different from modern humans, and possibly weren't as smart and therefore incapable of manufacturing an airworthy craft. Firstly, their calendar is far more accurate than anything European or Asian cultures ever created, and the DNA record is pretty darned clear. Modern humans, people like you and me, have been around for quite a while, probably 300,000 years. The Mayans were/are (significant populations of Mayan speaking Mayans still exist to this day) modern humans just like you and me, with a historical DNA trail, a DNA migration map that begins from the same geographical location that yours and mine does. We are all the same people with the same intellectual capacity. Some of us are born in more advantageous (resource and asset rich) locations and some aren't.

Fsbirdhouse wrote at 2/4/2018 5:07:10 PM:

Although I applaud the effort of these young men, I cannot help but be somewhat frustrated in the fact that once again an exact copy of this particular model fell short. What is needed is an EXACT copy of the craft as far as information is available. Of course we do not know what power plant it utilized in the original, but we can see certain features on the tail were eliminated that could be crucial to the craft's overall performance. Herbert proved the leading edge curlicues were essential to understanding the main performance enhancing feature of the craft, and yet of the three best efforts modelers (So far published) have made to produce a copy, two have inexplicably decided to eliminate their inclusion (Curlicues)in what they produced, and all failed to understand a combination of Horizontal Stabilizer and Elevator into a single panel for a greater control surface area (This is perfectly understandable in a first time test model) Were I experienced in model making myself, I should attempt a copy of the craft, but then I should also have to find somebody to fly the basted thing or it would end up a pile of garbage in seconds! Having flown Cubs in the Alaska Bush for years is one thing. I hear flying these models takes real skill! Something this old Fudd doesn't have anymore!

Fsbirdhouse wrote at 2/4/2018 12:52:29 AM:

These young engineers that produced the flying model made a colossal mistake in eliminating the wing's leading edge curlicue features. These are found in another form (Which I have come to think may be very primitive by comparison) on nearly all modern Jet Airliners. They are a form of Slot/Slats that are deployed at take-offs and landings to increase lift at slower air-speeds and improve control of the aircraft at those times. Dave Herbert made a far cruder TEST MODEL of the Golden aircraft in question here substituting holes at the leading edge instead of the curlicues. Same concept, although he didn't realize it until tested. At minute 6:20 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVPli_2-Qw4 Dave is one of the premier modelers in the country, and I'm sure realized by now exactly what he was dealing with in those leading edge features. Although he mentions several times during his test flight that he has no down elevator/down trim left because of the tremendous lift of the wings, I'm sure he also realizes the simple fix for that on the model. Like the German Engineers before him he split the horizontal stabilizer and elevator (Horizontal tail fins) into two pieces (As seen on his model), when he should have kept them as one solid panel pivoting in the center as seen here. https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search;_ylt=AwrTccyzKXZaIU4A9ncPxQt.?p=f-15+stabilizer&fr=yhs-pty-pty_weather&fr2=piv-web&hspart=pty&hsimp=yhs-pty_weather&type=weaff_0_ff#id=14&iurl=https%3A%2F%2Fupload.wikimedia.org%2Fwikipedia%2Fcommons%2F5%2F53%2FF_22_Raptor_Tail_Feathers_photo_D_Ramey_Logan.jpg&action=click This would essentially more than double the control surface, giving the down elevator/down trim he needed for better control These ancient gold models do not have Dorsal fins, A Caudal fin (Tail fin below belly of fish) or Scales. Without at least one of those, it is impossible to realize the artist's intent that it should be a fish.

precious wrote at 11/26/2015 10:20:23 AM:

i am not sure what are they talking about i was just looking for a model one all they just give me was a stuipd air craft

Bill wrote at 4/27/2015 7:38:04 PM:

I'm not sure of the value of taking the aerodynamics that we know and applying them to shapes from the past. The original items are not aerodynamic at all and don't even include simple concepts such as the airfoil. We our knowledge base, it is easy for us to determine which sections of the "aircraft" need to have a particular shape, but adding them to their old art doesn't prove anything.

Jon Green wrote at 4/23/2015 4:02:41 PM:

I think it far more likely that, if it was indeed a Mayan aircraft of some kind, it would have been a kite rather than a free-flying craft. I could well imagine Mayans flying kites, much as the ancient Indians and Chinese did.

Lindsley wrote at 4/23/2015 2:07:56 PM:

It could be flying fishes, that already have good aerodynamics...

Cheshire wrote at 4/22/2015 8:46:20 PM:

Thanks Simon. Thank you researchers from Tongji University College of Aerospace Engineering and Applied Mechanics. Coincidence my ass, feasible airplane designs don't pop up because its easy.

Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to

3ders.org Feeds 3ders.org twitter 3ders.org facebook   

About 3Ders.org

3Ders.org provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive