The Navy has flown a Marine MV-22 with the first ever “flight critical” component derived from 3D printing.

The future of 3D printing for the Navy has already arrived—via the MV-22 Osprey. An MV-22 took flight for the first time with a part manufactured through 3D printing. The flight occurred at NAS Patuxent River, MD.

No longer are Navy 3D printers making hanging fruit baskets or plastic shower curtain rings. This test was actually for something useful–a component deemed “essential for flight”.

The MV-22 Osprey’s that tested the first 3D part used an engine nacelle that contained a 3D printed titanium link. The link was one of four that holds the engine onto the plane. Even though only one of the four parts was fabricated from a 3D printer, it still was a significant step. The Navy believes 3D printing is a future means to acquire spare parts.

Many times airframes outlast their original suppliers, making it difficult to procure the necessary replacement parts. Additionally, shipboard repair facilities sometimes have to wait for spare parts to be flown out or delivered via an underway replenishment. By fabricating parts through a 3D printer, repair facilities are not relying on the supply chain. The supply chain is onboard and underway with them.

While this first flight was only a test for the MV-22, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) plans on certifying the part for operational use. Additionally, future platforms such as the CH-53K will also contain 3D parts.

But don’t hold  your breath. “Useful” 3D printing as a daily feature on board ships is a long way off. The current testing process has approximately a half dozen parts ready for certification…in 2017. The days of making hundreds of parts via the 3D printer will be well into the future.



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Top Photo credit: An MV-22B from VMM-161 “Greyhawks” shows off the Osprey’s ability to fly like a fixed-wing aircraft (Photo credit: Jonathan Derden)