3D printing technology is improving day-by-day. Now, you can actually print electric motors! - we just had to stick one to a plane.
Christoph Laimer from Switzerland is a 3D printing master. Where most people print details, firewalls and mounts, Christoph is engineering 3D printed brushless motors. About a year ago, he sent Flite Test one of his outrunners for us to check out. A year on, we've made an RC ultralight for it to go on.
Putting the Motor in a Plane
Appropriately, the ultralight design that we came up with includes a whole bunch of 3D printed parts. Chad decided to create a carbon fibre frame with 3D printed brackets and joiners that would hold the whole assembly together.
This worked well as the whole airframe could be plugged together like a Lego set. You could use this method to create a carbon airframe in much the same way.
The wings were designed by Josh Bixler and put together by Andre. These have flaperons to give the big bird a little more lift on take off. This is similar to some real ultralights. One, in particular, is Peter Sripol's newest ultralight.
Sitting proudly in position on a 3D printed mount, the large pusher outrunner is all ready to go. The holes on the outside and rear of the casing are for ventilation and all-important motor balancing.
This airplane design was specifically conceived to be as light as possible so as to give the motor the best chance of getting airborne. With a light wing loading, the plane didn't need as much power to get up as many other planes would.
So, how did it fly? Well, here's the video.
If you want to see the reaction of the FT crew on receiving this motor, here's the vlog from last year mentioned in the ultralight flight video. Talk about excited!
Overview of Christoph's motor
Not many brushless motors are made from plastic, nevermind 3D printed plastic. PLA filament is the main material. This means that you can print the main motor components from a standard 3D printer, such as the Lulzbot printers that we use.
Of course, other parts such as the magnets and copper wire need to be sourced elsewhere. Christoph helpfully provides a list of suppliers so that you can use exactly the same components as he does on his motors. He has also made extensive assembly guides along with videos showing how the motor works.
There are fifty-four slots for the copper wire that is coiled around inside the motor.
Christoph explains more about his motor design in this video (below). Check it out if you want to learn more about how his motors go together. This really would be the perfect project for anyone with an interest in both RC aircraft and 3D printing!
Article by James Whomsley
Editor of FliteTest.com