3D Printing Model Aircraft Wings: A Comprehensive Guide

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The shape of an airfoil wing is crucial for the performance and efficiency of an aircraft. Traditionally, creating an accurate airfoil shape has been a challenge, but with advancements in technology, 3D printing has become a viable option. In his latest VTOL RC aircraft project, Tom Stanton demonstrates how to model wing sections for easy printing.

To ensure a smooth transition from hover to forward flight, Tom used the Airfoil Tools website to find and download the appropriate airfoil profile. He then imported the profile into Fusion 360, a 3D modeling software, and added internal ribs in a diagonal grid pattern. These ribs not only provide structural support but also include lightening holes to reduce weight.

To overcome the issue of PLA filament oozing when it stops extruding, Tom designed the wings and their internal ribs to be printed in one continuously extruded line. This allows for a seamless printing process and eliminates the need for post-processing or potential weak points.

Additionally, Tom included a carbon fiber wing spar to enhance the strength and rigidity of the wing. This cylinder runs along the core of the wing and provides essential reinforcement. By carefully designing the internal ribs and incorporating a carbon fiber spar, Tom ensures that the printed wing is capable of withstanding the stresses associated with flight.

While the process may seem straightforward, it took approximately three weeks of experimentation to find a method that works effectively. Tom’s technique is primarily intended for wings with a continuous profile, but it can be adapted for tapered or swept wings as well.

The use of 3D printing in aerospace applications, such as the creation of lightweight load-bearing structures, is incredibly exciting. As technology continues to advance, the possibilities for 3D printing in aviation are vast.

There is potential for further optimization in the design process, specifically in terms of topological finite element analysis (FEA) and infill optimization. Topological FEA involves defining the shape, loads, tension, compression, and shear of the structure and then determining the most efficient infill pattern to optimize weight. Although this level of sophistication is currently beyond the capabilities of slicer software, it is possible that future advancements may allow for FEA analysis to be integrated into the design process.

In terms of infills, there are already adaptive infill options available that save weight while retaining strength. These infills adjust their spacing as they approach load-bearing surfaces, ensuring an optimal distribution of material. While it may be challenging to implement topological FEA directly into slicer software, it is feasible for design programs to perform the analysis and then pass the information along to the slicer for optimized infill.

Some may argue that a lower fill rate and correct fill patterns could achieve similar results, but this method lacks the benefits of the spiral print achieved in vase mode. Additionally, manually laying out internal structures and solid infill ribs would be necessary, making the process more time-consuming and potentially less precise.

It is important to consider the limitations of 3D printing in this context. The weak axis of the wing is along its length, and the length of the wing section may be constrained by the Z range of the printer. While 3D-printed wings offer weight savings compared to foam and film-covered balsa alternatives, they may be more challenging to repair in case of damage.

In conclusion, 3D printing provides an excellent solution for creating accurate airfoil wing sections. Through careful design and consideration of materials, it is possible to achieve lightweight and structurally sound wings for aircraft. As technology continues to evolve, the integration of advanced analysis techniques into the design and printing process may pave the way for even more optimized and efficient structures.

Title: Revolutionizing Wing Construction: 3D Printing Takes Flight


In the world of aviation, even the smallest improvements in design and construction can have significant impacts on performance and efficiency. One such innovation that has recently gained momentum is 3D printing. This cutting-edge technology has opened up a world of possibilities for creating complex shapes and structures for aircraft components, including wings. In this blog post, we will explore how 3D printing is transforming wing construction, providing lighter, stronger, and more customizable solutions.

The Turbulence Challenge

One of the challenges in wing design is minimizing turbulence caused by surface cracks. Traditionally, aeromodellers have used manual methods, such as hot-wire foam cutting, which can be time-consuming and labor-intensive. However, with 3D printing, creating smooth surfaces becomes as easy as pressing a button. The bottom of airfoils, in particular, can now be as smooth as glass, reducing turbulence and optimizing aerodynamics.

The Advantages of 3D Printing

By leveraging 3D printing technology, thousands of people around the world can now easily download and print wing models using standard components and a standard 3D printer. This level of accessibility and amateur engagement was never possible with manual methods. Furthermore, 3D printing allows for the creation of arbitrary variations of airfoil profiles, without the constraints of linearity between ends.

Another advantage lies in the ability to embed mounting points for internal components directly into the wing structure. This streamlines the assembly process and enhances overall structural integrity. Additionally, for those seeking the best of both worlds, a hybrid approach can be utilized by producing two 3D prints: one for the internal spaceframe structure, and one as a buck for the wing skin (e.g., CF layup). This combination results in a lighter and stronger wing structure.

Strength, Weight Reduction, and Repairability

When comparing 3D printed wings with traditional foam cores or film-covered alternatives, the former often proves to be both lighter and stiffer. The use of foamed PLA, a stiff material extruded in minimal thickness, contributes to weight reduction without compromising strength. The solidly shaped internal geometry and full-length main spar further enhance structural integrity, reducing the need for excess material.

Moreover, repairing a 3D printed wing is far simpler than traditional methods. Rather than laboriously assembling and designing internal structures, one can swap out broken parts with the ease of letting the printer do its work. The result? A lighter, stiffer, and more efficient wing.

Limitations and Considerations

While 3D printing offers numerous advantages, it is important to acknowledge certain limitations. For instance, the brittleness and lower fracture toughness of PLA – even when injection molded – can affect the overall durability of the wing. However, ongoing advancements in material science will likely address these challenges over time.


As 3D printing continues to evolve, its impact on wing construction becomes increasingly significant. This revolutionary technology allows for the creation of smoother surfaces, arbitrary airfoil variations, embedded mounting points, and lighter, stiffer structures. While it may not be a perfect solution in its current form, 3D printing is undoubtedly pushing the boundaries of what is possible in aeronautical design. With further research and development, we can expect even more exciting advancements in the field of wing construction. So, are you ready to take flight with 3D printing?

The world of 3D printing has revolutionized the way we create and build things. From simple household items to complex machinery, the possibilities seem endless. One area where 3D printing has made significant advances is in the field of model aircraft construction.

Traditionally, model aircraft wings were built using materials like balsa wood or foam. These materials offered a good balance of lightweight and strength, but they also had their drawbacks. Balsa wood, while lightweight and strong, was difficult to repair in case of damage. Foam, on the other hand, lacked stiffness and needed to be thickened to compensate for it, resulting in heavier wings.

Enter PLA, or polylactic acid, which is a type of thermoplastic polymer commonly used in 3D printing. PLA printed parts have been likened to glass in the Z-axis, meaning they have significant strength in that direction. However, PLA is not as lightweight and strong as one might hope. It is brittle and lacks the necessary strength for certain applications.

But lightweight PLA, which has good fracture toughness, holds promise for model aircraft construction. While it may not be as strong as traditional materials, it offers a good enough performance at half the density of standard PLA. This makes it a viable option for model aircraft wings.

A key advantage of 3D printing with PLA is the ability to create excellent scale fuselage surfaces and fairing blends. This enables greater accuracy and detail in the design. Additionally, PLA’s stiffness allows it to hold the aerofoil profile of the wing really well, which is crucial for aerodynamic performance.

However, it is important to note that PLA is not meant to bear significant loads. Its role in a model aircraft wing is to take its own weight and the aeroloadings of its own cross-section around the spar. The full-length spar, usually made of carbon fiber, is responsible for bearing the majority of the load and preventing wing folding.

While PLA has its advantages, it is not without its limitations. It is brittle and can shatter when subjected to high loads or impacts. However, most wing constructions are not designed to crash into immovable objects at high speeds. RC aircraft that withstand crashes typically do so because of their low flying speed and light weight, which reduces the impact force.

When it comes to foam, hot wire cutting is a popular method for shaping wings. However, foam lacks stiffness and may require thicker dimensions to compensate for it. This can result in heavier wings. Fiberglass or carbon fiber over foam, on the other hand, offers the best strength and stiffness to weight ratio for model aircraft, especially in sizes up to about 3 meters. This method involves adding external spar strips or D-boxes as part of the layup, without the need for true internal spars.

In conclusion, PLA printed parts, while not as lightweight and strong as desired, offer good fracture toughness and performance for model aircraft wings. 3D printing with PLA allows for excellent scale fuselage surfaces and fairing blends. However, the load-bearing capacities of PLA are limited, and the full-length spar, usually made of carbon fiber, takes on the majority of the load. For the best strength-to-weight ratio, fiberglass or carbon fiber over foam remains the preferred method for model aircraft construction. Nevertheless, the advancements in lightweight PLA and 3D printing technology have opened up new possibilities and continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in the world of model aircraft.

The PLA (Polylactic Acid) material used in 3D printing can be a game-changer for creating lightweight wing sections. While hotwire foam is known for its lightness, PLA is stiffer and can be printed in thinner sections. However, the main drawback is that 3D printing takes significantly longer than hotwire cutting, and few people have access to 3D printers large enough for printing large wing sections in one go. Even if one were to build a CNC platform for this purpose, it might not be spacious enough. Additionally, there is a concern about glassing over PLA with epoxy, as PLA has a lower temperature tolerance compared to hotwire foams.

Tom, an individual who has done extensive work on 3D printing with aerodynamic devices, is commended for his ingenious creations. However, it must be noted that surrounding oneself only with yes men can lead to negative consequences, whereas having differing opinions can lead to positive outcomes. The traditional notion that the top surface of a wing does most of the work is challenged by the flexibility of 3D printing, allowing for the creation of more complex geometries.

One idea proposed is printing wings with clear resin to utilize them as collectors of sunlight for Stirling engines. However, it is doubtful whether the temperature differential from sunlight on small wings would be significant enough for Stirling engines to function optimally. Alternatively, using light pipes to direct sunlight to a solar PV cell could potentially reduce the weight of panels needed for a solar-powered plane.

When it comes to model aerodynamics, there is still much uncertainty about airflow. Factors such as Reynolds numbers and proper selection of ordinances play crucial roles but are often overlooked. Despite this, the 3D printing hack presented by Tom is undeniably impressive. The chosen airfoil might appear fat for a model plane compared to a glider, but it was selected for its wide linear range of lift over angle of attack, which holds true even at lower Reynolds numbers.

Tom’s work in RC plane development, especially in the field of VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing), is widely celebrated. His recent video showcasing his advancements in this area is highly regarded, and he consistently impresses with his continuous improvement in the field. The applications of 3D printing in RC planes extend beyond their use in the hobby, and Nicholas praises Tom’s work for its incredible potential.

An interesting suggestion arises regarding printing the wing profile in vase mode and filling it with polyurethane foam. While this idea has been discussed before, there are concerns about ensuring even foam distribution and preventing distortion of the shell under pressure. Despite these challenges, the concept remains promising and worth exploring further.

In summary, the application of PLA filament in 3D printing offers the potential for creating lightweight wing sections. However, the process is significantly slower than hotwire foam cutting, and limitations in printer size further restrict its implementation. Tom’s innovative work in 3D printing aerodynamic devices is deserving of praise, although it is important to consider differing viewpoints for optimal outcomes. The possibilities for wing design and potential uses of 3D printing in RC planes are vast and exciting, making it an area of continuous exploration and improvement.

A Revolutionary Approach: Utilize Spray Foam and 3D Printing for Lightweight Wings

In the world of aviation, weight and density distribution play a critical role in determining the efficiency and performance of an aircraft. Engineers and designers are constantly striving to find innovative solutions to meet these demands, and today we propose a unique and creative method for constructing lightweight wings using spray foam and 3D printing technology.

Traditionally, when constructing wings, engineers design a wing profile and then proceed to print it using a 3D printer. However, by deviating from this conventional approach, we can take advantage of the benefits offered by spray foam. Instead of printing the entire wing profile, we suggest printing a wing profile mold and using it as a base for the foam.

To begin, coat the inside of the mold with a mold release agent to ensure easy removal of the foam once it has set. Next, carefully pump in the spray foam material and allow it to expand and solidify within the mold. Unlike printing, this method eliminates concerns about distortion during the printing process.

One of the key advantages of this approach is the ability to control the density and weight distribution across the wing. By adjusting the amount of foam injected into different areas of the mold, engineers can achieve a desired density profile and ensure even weight distribution. To fine-tune the center of mass, one can simply insert toothpicks or pin nails into the lighter side of the foam.

While this method may not result in the lightest possible wing, it is still incredibly lightweight and offers several additional benefits. For example, if the aircraft unfortunately crashes, having the wing mold on hand allows for the quick production of a replacement wing, nose, or tail using inexpensive expanding foam.

However, it is worth noting that expanding foams tend to be quite dense, even in their most “puffy” state. Consequently, this method may not always be advantageous compared to using a hotwire to cut insulation sheets. Therefore, we recommend it as a solution specifically for situations where intricate geometries are needed and wire cutting is deemed “impossible.”

For those interested in exploring this approach further, we have a video demonstration that showcases the process in detail. Additionally, we have received numerous requests for a sample STL file to assist with 3D printing. We greatly appreciate the enthusiasm and support, and as a gesture of gratitude, we are more than happy to provide a section of the video as an STL file for experimentation.

In conclusion, blending the power of spray foam and 3D printing technology offers a novel approach to constructing lightweight wings. While this method may not be suitable for all scenarios, it presents a unique alternative that addresses the challenges of density distribution and weight control. So, if you are an aviation enthusiast looking for new ways to revolutionize aircraft design, we encourage you to explore this method further. Happy experimenting!

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