All aircraft require lift in order to fly. Helicopters generate that lift from their spinning rotors. The vast majority of airplanes generate lift with their wings. The shape of the wings is crucial, as lift is created by ensuring the air pressure above the wing is lower than the air pressure below the wing. It’s also technically possible to achieve that lift using the fuselage of the plane, a design called the lifting body aircraft. On the rctestflight YouTube channel, Daniel Riley wanted to find out if it’s possible to 3D print a lifting body aircraft.
Lifting body aircraft are distinct from flying wing aircraft like the famous Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber. Flying wing aircraft have a minimal fuselage, and no tail — the plane is essentially all wing. Lifting body aircraft are basically the opposite, and don’t really have wings at all. Instead, the fuselage itself generates the lift. Lifting body aircraft have never entered into actual production, but a number of prototypes have been tested over the years. Most of those were built in the ’60s and ’70s at the peak of the space race as experimental re-entry vehicles by the United States Air Force and NASA.
To see if it’s practical, or at least possible, to 3D print a lifting body aircraft, Riley constructed several design iterations. All of them were unpowered, and were intended to be used as gliders. Riley dropped those from a drone, and evaluated the performance of each design. Ultimately, he found that it was very difficult to achieve stable flight, but some of his designs were promising. While none of them flew well, they certainly did better than just falling. Riley hasn’t proved whether it is practical to 3D print a lifting body aircraft, but he has demonstrated that it’s most likely possible.