3D printing has come a long way in the past couple of years. It's quite incredible that today, anyone with a 3D printer is able to print a working radio controlled 3D printed airplane. This time last year, we got the opportunity to review the magnificent P-38 from 3DLabPrint. This year, it's time to step the gear up even higher. Here is the 67" (1.7m) wingspan Supermarine Spitfire MKIX. The best part? This plane only costs $36 in 3D printer filament!
Check out the beasty specification of this thing. With a large wing area, decent heft in terms of weight, the plane behaves fairly similarly to the real warbird.
- Wingspan - 67 inches.
- Takeoff weight (with a 6s 4500mAh) - 3.7kg
- Max speed (level flight) - 87mph
- Rate of climb - 5,500 ft/min
- Flight time 6s 4500mAh - Approximately 10 mins (although we found we could fly for longer)
Aside from the spec, the aircraft just looks gorgeous, even sitting still on the ground. The retractable landing gear, three bladed prop and details like the canopy just make the thing look magnificent. If you look at the clear version, like this particular bird, you can see all the way through the internal structure that gives the Spitfire its rigidity and strength. Stealth mode activated!
As you can see, the structure is intricately designed to give the aircraft the required torsional strength. It does the job of the stressed aluminium skin of the real Spitfire. One highlighted feature in this model is the double skin of the fuselage which is required because of the sheer size of this airplane. This image was sourced from 3DLabPrint's website.
As was clear in the video, our daring test pilot Josh Bixler was extremely impressed. Several times, he expressed his enthusiasm.
"I'm in love" - Josh Bixler
It's clear to see why this was. Aside from flying like a charm, the Spitfire looked simply wonderful. Like the big scale gassers, the plane ripped by on it's several low and fast passes.
The plane is a mix of old and new - heavy warbird-like flying characteristics with ultra-modern 21st-century manufacturing technology.
Cruising in for a touch and go, the big Spitfire settles down into the uneven grass without any issues. The 3kg takeoff weight makes landings like this very scale, the plane rolling along without too much deceleration. With the throttle back wide open, she regains airspeed and lifts skyward once more.
Up at altitude, it's clear to see the intricacy of the fine structure of the wings as the internal shapes become shadows against the low winter sunlight.
From Alex's 270 chase quad, the plane almost resembles a balsa model with tissue wings, sunlight pouring through the veins of the wings and the formers of the fuselage.
As you can see from this shot of the underside, as the plane almost eclipses the sun, this model includes a retractable undercarriage. It is features like these that make 3D printed models like this even more impressive - there is little doubt that they aim to equal, if not improve upon, the alternative traditional building materials of balsa, plywood and fibreglass that are used to create most large-scale models.
It is so scale you can almost hear that Merlin engine.
One last pass before landing.
How you build a 3D printed plane
Wondering how it works? Here's the straightforward rundown of how you build a 3D printed plane like this Spitfire.
All of 3DLabPrint's aircraft are easy to assemble without the need for complicated tools - it's simply glued together. In actual fact, the build process isn't a million miles away from our foam board DIY Swappable Series. Step by step build videos are also available on the website for you to follow along with detailed user manuals.
For this aircraft, all you need is a 3D Printer with a nozzle of 0.4mm diameter and PLA filament (and of course your own RC gear). Lulzbot make some great quality printers, such as the Lulzbot Miniwhich is a great option for beginners.
You can purchase the STL files from the website here.
We're very excited about this next chapter of the hobby which is opening up. Along with full-sized aircraft builds, 3D printing opens the door to printing components for scratch building such as cowlings, motor mounts, tires, wheel hubs, canopies, cockpit details and more. Although a lot of this has been available for a while now, it's now that we see a step forward to the point where scale warbirds can be printed with plastic and flown with similar performance to their balsa and fibreglass counterparts. A new chapter has only just begun, and it's one that holds many opportunities for the years ahead.
Further Viewing and Reading
You might want to check out our other experience with the P-38 from 3DLabPrint. Here is our video on that particular model and a link to the article that describes our thoughts in more detail.