Sure, there are lots of things you can 3-D print at home that you don’t really need. But then there are fighter jets, which the British Royal Air Force (RAF) does need, and pays nearly $50,000 to operate per flight hour, according to Parliament records from 2010. British defense company BAE Systems claims that 3-D printing could significantly reduce the jets’ overhead–something to the tune of $1.64 million over the next four years.
In late December, the RAF tested Tornado GR4 fighter jets with the 3-D printed parts, like protective covers for cockpit radios and guards for power take-off shafts, reports the BBC. It was the first time fighter jets flew with 3-D printed pieces, some costing less than $140, as part of their assembly.
“You are suddenly not fixed in terms of where you have to manufacture these things. You can manufacture the products at whatever base you want, providing you can get a machine there, which means you can also start to support other platforms such as ships and aircraft carriers,” Mike Murray, head of airframe integration at BAE Systems told the news service.
“And 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,” he added.
Front lines may start seeing more 3-D printed items soon (and no, not just guns). The United States military is funding research into 3-D printed armor that mimics the function of dragon fish scales. Heck, maybe one day we’ll even 3-D print the front line itself.