3D Printing

MD Helicopters Turns to 3D Printing for Advanced New Hybrid Design

Demand for helicopters has grown exponentially during the past decade both for military and civilian use. One of the companies that most benefited from the higher number of requests is MD Helicopters, a long standing helicopter manufacturer, that in 2008, under CEO Lynn Tilton’s leadership, saw yearly sales grow from 7 to 52 units.

Since then global market demand has dwindled but a new generation of more efficient, lightweight aircraft could spark new growth and MD intends to be at its forefront. That is why, while presenting the new MD 530 G Explorer model at the last Heli-Expo in Anaheim (CA), it announced that it will soon present a new scout helicopter with a hybrid-electric power system built with lightweight composites and integrating its proprietary NOTAR rotor-less tail system.

To achieve this goal, Lynn Tilton turned to additive manufacturing technologies. A few competing companies, such as Bell Helicopter and Augusta Westland have already implemented 3D printing in end-use production, though not in load bearing structures. Tilton wants to take the technology to the next level by designing an aerial scout able to compete with next generation rivals but using the light, single-engine NOTAR structure of its current aircraft.

Additive manufacturing makes it theoretically possible to develop a lightweight hollow structure that will retain the overall solidity while greatly reducing overall weight. This means that the helicopter could even be powered by the single engine hybrid-electric system and thus open entire new areas of possible use and sustainability.

Flightglboal.com reports that the new design could be unveiled at next year’s Heli-Expo convention, though the aircraft is not expected to enter service for several years. While we wait to see what it will look like, here are some photos of non-3D printed helicopters by MD.

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