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Saab Gripen Flies With External 3D Printed Hatch, Doesn’t Lose It

3D printing might just very well be the next revolution in manufacturing, but industries across the world are just beginning to scratch the surface of what is possible. These days, it seems, the defense industry is the busiest in trying to find the best uses for what is officially known as additive manufacturing.
Saab Gripen E Series 6 photos
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The latest to give it a shot is Swedish aerospace company Saab, which back in March wanted to see if it can fit a 3D printed part on the exterior of an airplane, and not lose it in the process of testing it.

The plane chosen for the task was Saab’s own Gripen, a fighter jet family that first entered service in 1996 and is presently deployed in around three dozen countries.

The particular Gripen used for the test was fitted with a replacement hatch, constructed using scans of the original one and by using a nylon polymer. Then it had to take off and fly in the skies over Linköping, Sweden, a feat it achieved in mid-March.

Saab uses some 3D-printed internal components for its airplanes, but this was the first time such a part was fitted on the exterior of the plane.

According to the engineers who looked at the fighter after it landed, the hatch showed no visual structural changes, signaling it held its ground up there. With that in mind, Saab team’s work will now focus on finding materials that could be just as flexible, but capable of withstanding even colder temperatures at higher altitudes.

If successful, these tests will open the door to new capabilities when it comes to repairing aircraft on the battlefield - Saab even envisions a 3D printer mounted inside a container and deployed where needed to supply spare parts.

No other details on future tests were provided by the Swedish company.

press release

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