It’s a bird... It’s a plane... it‘s THOR!

Airbus Tests 3D Printed Plane for Aerodynamics and AI

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THOR, the 3D printed mini plane, attracted a lot of attention at the ILA Berlin Air Show. Now Airbus starts testing the new airplane technology including its artificial intelligence.

Last November, the aircraft, made entirely from 3D printed parts apart from the engine, was successfully flown marking a leap in how 3D printing can be used in aerospace (All3DP reported).

Airbus, the company behind the 3D printed aircraft, say that they will now be using their innovative plane to test new technologies including low-risk experiments.

Detlev Konigorski, a member of Airbus’ Emerging Technologies & Concepts in Germany, explains:

“This mini aircraft does not represent an actual airliner design Airbus is considering, rather it is a platform to enable low-risk and and fast-track development of different technologies in real flying conditions. The first version was to test whether the slogan ‘Print me an airplane’ can be converted into reality.”

The company will be using Thor to test 3D printed structural parts, advanced aerodynamics, and artificial intelligence.

The goal is simple: implement high-risk ideas on flying vehicles as soon as possible.

Benefits of Using a 3D Printed Plane Like THOR

3D printed aircraft scale 4mx4m

Thor looks like a model airplane and its name is actually short for “Test of High-tech Objectives in Reality”. It is a windowless aircraft measuring 4 meters in length and weighing just 21kg, including the 1.5kW electric propellers.

Although the aircraft will never be put into production, it is the perfect for testing 3D printed parts, as well as aircraft ideas and innovations.

Thanks to 3D printing, the 60 structural parts of the aircraft can be manufactured in just seven weeks. Assembly takes only two weeks.

The mini aircraft is now being tested following its display at the recent Airbus Innovation Days exhibition and the ILA Berlin Air Show.

“The first flight was simply about flying,” said Konigorski. “Now, we want to generate basic data on things like altitude, speed, and acceleration in a turn.”

Follow-on Thor versions currently are being assembled at the new “Center of Applied Aeronautical Research” in Hamburg, Germany – known as the ZAL, in which Airbus is a major partner and shareholder.

The next version will accommodate interchangeable wings; once wing testing is finished, the Thor project will focus on artificial intelligence.

The idea is for a Thor aircraft to land on its own, identifying obstacles on the runway and determining whether it is safe to touch down without support from any ground infrastructure. 

Konigorski explained: “If a Thor aircraft takes off, and after 30 feet makes a nose dive back the ground, our attitude is: ‘good, let’s sweep it off the runway and come up with a better idea. In a few weeks, we can print a new aircraft!”