Virginia Tech’s 3DPAC team recently scored top honors at the 7th annual 3D Printed Aircraft competition, hosted by the University of Texas Arlington. The team’s Wavy plane earned second place honors in the endurance race of the fixed wing category, and their second plane, Blended, earned the Altair Most Innovative Design Award.

The Hokies have traditionally fared well in the annual competition, moving up a slot from their third place finish in 2022. The team placed first in the fixed wing category at their first entry to the event in 2018. 

The 3D Printed Aircraft competition challenges students to develop a lightweight, 3D printable airframe configuration, integrate design and advanced manufacturing to maximize mission performance, and leverage direct digital manufacturing technologies.

At the 2023 event, nine university teams from across the U.S. participated, with seven competing in the fixed wing category and two in the rotary wing event.

According to team lead Jenith Vijayakumar, a recent aerospace and ocean engineering graduate, the team challenged themselves to enter two designs in the competition this year. “We took a systems engineering approach, in that we developed two designs using multiple techniques and optimizing and building upon what was working,” said Vijayakumar. “Through testing, both designs proved to be viable and we had two different yet functional planes to ready to compete.” 

Housed in the Advanced Engineering Design Laboratory (AEDL), the 3DPAC team split into sub-teams and spent the year refining their designs of Wavy and Blended. All parts, including the aircraft chassis, wings, and supports are fabricated out of 3D printed material, with the exception of the avionics and electronics systems, which are commercially sourced. 

Wavy utilized a hybrid mix of design techniques, featuring a V-tail, and a wing integrated on the fuselage with enough space for the electronics to maintain stable flight. While it flew a bit slower in comparison to last year’s plane, it proved to be more stable in flight and went the distance in the endurance race. 

The Blended plane featured a Delta wing design, with a 1.8 meter wingspan, challenging the team in the printing and assembly of a plane that large.

Parts for both planes were printed at Virginia Tech, using a total of six 3D printers at the AEDL.The team carefully packed the unassembled parts and supplies, flew to Arlington and then completed the final assembly of both planes once they arrived at competition. 

Five Virginia Tech undergraduates traveled to Texas for the competition. Throughout the event,  teams were judged on their written reports, and participated in endurance races held at the University of Texas at Arlington Maverick Stadium. 

The 3DPAC team is advised by professor Craig Woolsey, and is supported by Lockheed Martin, the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering, the Student Engineers’ Council, and the Ridge and Valley Chapter of the AUVSI.