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The Wonder of Flight

July 15, 2017

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,entertainment,event,life — Terry Wohlers @ 08:07

Note: The following was authored by Joseph Kowen, associate consultant at Wohlers Associates.

I have always loved to fly. As far back as I can remember, I was always looking upward at the first sound of a plane. I can still feel the excitement of a trip to the airport as a child. I grew up in the southern tip of Africa when air travel was not very popular, so an airport visit might result in seeing only two or three planes. The Concorde came to visit one year, and my cousin was allowed off school to see it. I was not so lucky and had to make do with viewing the pictures he took.

Last month, I visited the Paris Air Show for the first time, a dream come true for an aviation aficionado. The show is a biennial celebration of all things aerospace. It’s a big deal—and big business. Orders valued at $150 billion were announced at the event.

The event is a showcase for new aircraft. It is also an opportunity for more than 2,000 exhibitors to display products and services used to build these complex machines. One of the main reasons for my attendance was to observe how additive manufacturing is advancing in the aerospace industry. AM is indeed playing an increasingly important role in aircraft design and manufacturing. Many AM systems and service providers demonstrated how complex shapes and geometric features can be built additively. Also, they showed how these parts can be made much lighter without sacrificing strength. In the aviation industry, every bit of weight reduction translates into cost savings.

After my professional duties were out of the way, the real excitement was seeing the aircraft on display. The Airbus A380 showed remarkable agility for a craft of its size. The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II and the Dassault Rafale performed breathtaking feats in the air.

I have always felt that flying was the ultimate mastery of science over the forces of nature. I never fail to marvel at the ease with which tons of equipment lift off the ground. Having spent a few days soaking up the latest that aerospace has to offer, I am more in awe of the ingenuity of the engineers that have made flight seem so effortless.

When leaving for home, I again luxuriated in the wonder of flight, as I have done since first stepping onto a plane. I suppose I’ll always feel the excitement of flight every time the wheels lift off the runway. It’s not something I will ever take for granted.