A University of Maryland student team has once again achieved new aviation heights, this time by successfully lifting a helicopter and passenger through the sole use of solar power.

After successfully completing the longest duration flight for a human-powered helicopter in fall of 2013, the UMD Gamera Team, a student team originally inspired in 2012 by the American Helicopter Society’s Sikorsky Prize, has continued raising the bar. In 2014, a new group of undergraduate students took over Team Gamera, reinventing itself as Solar Gamera to test the feasibility of applying solar power in achieving human helicopter flight.

Constructed from balsa wood, foam, mylar and carbon fibre, the Gamera helicopter has been designed into a giant x formation with the pilot seated in the centre. Attached to the end of the 60 feet long arms is a 42-foot rotor.

While electronic controls offer an advantage over Gamera’s human-powered predecessor, the challenge of lifting a 100-foot square rotorcraft solely through solar power has posed its own unique set of challenges. The craft may never engage in long-distance flight, but through this project’s immense hands-on opportunities, students hone their engineering chops and find focus for their future.

A 3D printed trim-and-drill tool, developed by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has received the title of largest solid 3D printed item by Guinness World Records.

ORNL printed the lower cost trim tool in only 30 hours using carbon fibre and ABS thermoplastic composite materials, which will be tested in building the Boeing 777X passenger jet. At 17.5 feet long, 5.5 feet wide and 1.5 feet tall, the 3D printed structure is comparable in length to a large sport utility vehicle and weighs approximately 1,650 pounds.

Leo Christodoulou, Boeing’s director of structures and materials said;

The existing, more expensive metallic tooling option we currently use comes from a supplier and typically takes three months to manufacture using conventional techniques. Additively manufactured tools, such as the 777X wing trim tool, will save energy, time, labour and production cost and are part of our overall strategy to apply 3D printing technology in key production areas.


During an awards ceremony held at DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL, where the component was 3D printed on the lab’s Big Area Additive Manufacturing machine, Guinness World Records judge Michael Empric measured the trim tool, proved it exceeded the required minimum of 0.3 cubic metres, or approximately 10.6 cubic feet, and announced the new record title.

Vlastimil Kunc, leader of ORNL’s polymer materials development team said;

The recognition by Guinness World Records draws attention to the advances we’re making in large-scale additive manufacturing composites research. Using 3D printing, we could design the tool with less material and without compromising its function.

After ORNL completes the verification testing, Boeing plans to use the manufactured trim-and-drill tool in the company’s new production facility in St. Louis and provide information back to ORNL on the tool’s performance. The tool will be used to secure the jet’s composite wing skin for drilling and machining before assembly.

View the time-lapse of the piece being made here

Facebook has announced that its Aquila carbon fibre drone, which has been created to beam internet from the sky to the ground has recently completed it’s first full-scale test flight.

The aim of the solar-powered drone is to fly for up to three months at a time, circling over remote destinations to provide internet connectivity using laser-based network and radio signals with a range of up to 60 miles.

Aquila has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 737, but has to weigh as little as possible to stay up for as long as possible. That’s why the body of the plane is made of a carbon fibre composite so the whole thing weighs less than 1,000 pounds.

On June 28th, Facebook completed the first successful flight which took place before dawn in Yuma, Arizona. The plane was airborne for 96 minutes while researchers gathered data from the ground. During the test flight, cruising at an altitude of 2150 feet, the Aquila only consumed 2000 watts of power.

Data gathered in the first flight found that the design was much more efficient than Facebook’s connectivity labs has first thought. A second test flight is imminent and will include the bulk of the communications equipment. Eventually Facebook plans to let the drone fly up at altitudes above 60,000 feet plus.

Taking turns at the controls of Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) the Pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg succeeded in their dream of achieving the first ever Round-The-World Solar Flight.

Coming from the last leg in Egypt, the aircraft landed in Abu Dhabi completing the final leg of an endeavour. This landing brings full circle to the historic circumnavigation that began on 9 March 2015 when Si2 set off from Abu Dhabi with André Borschberg at the controls.

For maximum efficiency carbon fibre and honeycomb sandwich was used in the construction of the airframe, while 140 carbon fibre ribs spaced at 50 cm intervals give the wing its aerodynamic cross-section, and also maintain its rigidity. 17,248 monocrystalline silicon cells each 135 microns thick mounted on the wings, fuselage and horizontal tailplane, providing the best compromise between lightness, flexibility and efficiency.

Taking turns in the single-seater 3.8m3 cockpit, the two pilots have flown Si2 around the world in 17 legs, crossing Asia, the Pacific Ocean, the USA, the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East. A total of 19 world records were set or are still pending by the World Air Sports Federation (FAI), in particular when André Borschberg accomplished the first of flying five consecutive days and nights over the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Hawaii in the longest duration a solo airplane of any kind has ever flown.

Boeing has announced that it will source carbon fibre prepreg composite material for the Boeing 777X from a new joint venture formed by Mubadala Development Company and Solvay.

First introduced in the 1970s, prepreg composites are a combination of high-strength carbon fibre and toughened epoxy resin. The 777X was the first commercial airplane to contain structurally significant composite parts. Composites account for 50% of structural weight of the 787 Dreamliner, and the 777X will have the world’s largest composite wing. Production of the 777X will begin in 2017, with its first delivery in 2020.

Boeing is the first customer for the Mubadala-Solvay joint venture, which will produce primary structure composite material for use in manufacturing the 777X empennage and floor beams. Mubadala and Solvay are planning for the joint venture to be operational by 2021 in a new facility built in Al Ain, U.A.E.

Since 2009, Boeing and Mubadala have signed several agreements to advance their collaboration in mutually beneficial ways, including in aerospace composites manufacturing. In 2013, Boeing and Mubadala announced a new Framework Strategic Agreement to increase the long-term role of Mubadala as a direct supplier to Boeing, including support as Mubadala developed prepreg manufacturing in the U.A.E.

Boeing have celebrate the grand opening of its new 777X Composite Wing Centre in Everett Washington.

The facility, located on the North side of the main final assembly building, will manufacture the world’s largest composite wings for the 777X, the company’s newest commercial jetliner.

The company has invested more than $1 billion in the Everett site for construction and outfitting of the new building and will contain three of the world’s largest autoclaves, each big enough to fit two Boeing 737 fuselages inside.

The 777X advances the world’s most efficient twin-aisle family of airplanes. Two models will comprise the 777X family – the 777–8X, with approximately 350 seats and a range capability of more than 9,300 nautical miles; and the 777–9X, with approximately 400 seats and a range of more than 8,200 nautical miles. To date, the 777X has accumulated 320 orders and commitments from six customers worldwide. Production of the 777X is scheduled to begin in 2017, with first delivery targeted in 2020.

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