Printing planes: BAE Systems now using 3D printed parts in fighter jets

BAE Systems is using 3D printed components in fighter jets flown in the UK. The news suggests that in the future, parts could simply be printed out when needed on the battlefield.

The first parts where used on board Tornado fighter jets flying out of the defence firm's airfield at Warton, Lancashire, last month.

The defence company says this  paves the way for using 3D printed parts in other military kit like ships and aircraft carriers.

According to BAE Systems, the Company’s Combat Engineering team is using 3D printing to engineer ready-made parts for supply to four squadrons of Tornado GR4 aircraft.

Those parts include protective covers for Tornado cockpit radios, support struts on the air intake door and protective guards for Power Take-off shafts.

"If it's feasible to get machines out on the front line, it also gives improved capability where we wouldn’t traditionally have any manufacturing support," says Mike Murray, head of airframe integration at BAE Systems.

Engineers are designing and producing 3D-printed functional components at RAF Marham.

With some of the parts costing less than £100 each to manufacture, 3D printing has already resulted in savings of more than £300,000 and will offer further potential cost savings of more than £1.2 million between now and 2017, the company believes.