back to article Our magnificent Vulture 2 spaceplane: Intimate snaps

The Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) team is gearing up to get our magnificent Vulture 2 spaceplane airborne, and while we fiddle with servos and autopilots, we thought you might enjoy a few intimate snaps of the world's first 3D-printed, rocket-powered aircraft. Before we get down to to it, it's hats off once again …


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  1. Trollslayer
    Thumb Up


    This is the first thing I have seen that really shows how powerful 3D printing is, the internal supports in the wings alone do this!

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: Aamzing!

      Yes, it's pretty impressive stuff.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Aamzing!

        About 10 years ago the company I worked for was offered a trial of an incredibly expensive 3d printing machine and my first question was "do you reckon you could print a nut and bolt that were screwed together, take it out the machine and unscrew it?". The general consensus was "no, not really". But seeing the detail you've got there, I'm starting to think maybe we're nearly there ...

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Aamzing!

          I've seen completely function gearboxes, ballbearings and all, being formed in 3d printers. We're way past a simple nut and bolt! (This does require a support material that can be removed using a solvent or a powder supported printing process)

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Aamzing!

      Yep. 3D printing is improving faster than you would believe.

      Full color and even metals are now possible. There are even body organ printers and food.

      Basic home using plastic resin kits have dropped to under $500.

  2. Big-nosed Pengie

    A thing of great beauty!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Does the addition of gloss cause changes to the aerodynamics?

    Just askin...

    1. Benchops

      Re: Does the addition of gloss cause changes to the aerodynamics?

      I thought you were answering your own question there:

      "Just a skin"

    2. James Micallef Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: addition of gloss

      re [Colour Redacted]

      C'mon, it's GOT to be red.

      1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

        Re: Re: addition of gloss

        Hmmm. Anyone for SPB standard silver and orange?

        1. Martin Budden Silver badge

          Re: addition of gloss

          There is only one acceptable colour scheme: clickety.

      2. Euripides Pants

        Re: addition of gloss

        "C'mon, it's GOT to be red."

        Black, like the SR71

  4. Alister

    the world's first 3D-printed, rocket-powered aircraft

    I'm not trying to cast aspersions (or, indeed, nasturtiums) on the SPB staff, but is that really the case?

    It just surprises me that, as 3D printing has been around for a few years now, some enterprising amateur rocketeer or RC plane enthusiast hasn't already done this?

    1. The First Dave

      Re: the world's first 3D-printed, rocket-powered aircraft

      If you don't hurry up and set this thing free, someone else is going to beat you to it...

    2. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: the world's first 3D-printed, rocket-powered aircraft

      Not that we've heard of, but if you know of somebody...

  5. John Sager

    Flight profile after release?

    Have you designed this yet or is it still a secret?

  6. big_D Silver badge


    Hmm, the design reminds me a lot of the Fireflash, without the engines mounted on top of the tail.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Fireflash

      As I recall, those Fireflashes were always exploding, falling into the sea, being shot down, and generally keeping International Rescue busier than a one-armed paper-hanger. So here's hoping El Reg have got Thunderbird 5 on speed-dial, just in case...

      Have they got a new Traffic Control module built into the ISS now? Given that there's been quite a lot of congestion up there recently. What with the Cygnus test-capsule, a Soyuz popping in and The Register sending their playmonaut to join the staff. Although as there was nearly a space-drowning just outside the ISS, The Special Projects Bureau ought to be very careful, as the only space agency we know of to have actually drowned one of their 'nauts.

  7. Vortex

    Have you printed any spare parts?

    Seems to me that the probability of inadvertent damage during flight testing is non-zero. You planning to have some backup bits?

    1. PC Paul

      Re: Have you printed any spare parts?

      You're not allowed to ask about that, I suggested flight tests a few times and just got sarcastic replies and down votes.

      Which is a shame because I have lots of experience of test flights...

      To be fair last time it was 'wait and see' so now I'm waiting.

      1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

        Re: Re: Have you printed any spare parts?

        You're allowed to ask, and we're allowed to say wait and see. Democracy in action, what more do you want ;-)

  8. Ottman001

    Was it intended to be painted when designed? I ask because I have seen paint significantly increase the weight of model aircraft. Is the all-up-weight range known for the Vulture 2?

    From the description "like a cuttle fish", it sounds like you're either going to have to spend quiet some time sanding before painting, or you're going to use a lot of paint to get a smooth finish.

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      We had an open mind on painting. However, there is clearly a visibility issue, surface texture aside.

    2. Peter Simpson 1

      I, too, suggest a going over with some fine grit sandpaper before painting. Otherwise, you'll have a lumpy, painted surface. She deserves the best, so don't succumb to the temptation, take a while and get the surface glossy smooth before you paint...

      You won't regret it!

      1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

        The printers have advised as to how to get the best finish. Yes, it involves sanding.

  9. Ralph B


    I've just realised that Vulture 2 is only a couple of atomic motors short of being Fireflash from the Thunderbirds TV series.

    Inspiration? Or coincidence?

  10. MondoMan
    Black Helicopters

    Colour Redacted

    Errr, normally "black" IS the color used for redaction. Besides, you needn't hide such an expected (but excellent) choice from us -- we won't tell.

  11. RainForestGuppy

    No colour yet...

    That explains all the delays.

    Golagafrincham captain: Yes, and, and, and the wheel. What about this wheel thingy? Sounds a terribly interesting project to me.

    Golagafrincham marketing exec: Er, yeah, well we’re having a little, er, difficulty here…

    Ford Prefect: Difficulty?! It’s the single simplest machine in the entire universe!

    Golagafrincham marketing exec: Well alright mister wise guy, if you’re so clever you tell us what colour it should be!


    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: No colour yet...

      "if you’re so clever you tell us what colour it should be!"

      Y'know, that's always bugged me,despite being funny. If Ford is so clever then why doesn't he know that the LEVER is the simplest machine in the universe?

  12. BarryM

    So what sort of shear and torsional strength does the nylon have?

    Do you have to spray it with any additional epoxy to firm it up before it gets painted?

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      No. The design chaps have run the figures, and it's good to go as is. The outer wings are epoxied to the fuselage, but that was always the intention.

  13. imanidiot Silver badge

    Good show!

    Good show indeed old chaps!

    Looking very good. The only part I have some doubts about is the contruction of the bayonet closure for the nose section. Those sharp inside corners look perfect for the start of stress fractures.

    The surface finish could do with some work as well. I find it to be a bit disappointing, I had expected a slightly smoother finish.

  14. Dangermouse 1

    It's possible that painting the plane might actually increase drag. When I looked at the photos, it reminded me of studies I've read about into reducing drag by using non-smooth surfaces. Think golf balls, but with much smaller undulations in the material.

    Sadly, I can't remember where I read this, probably a report in New Scientist or similar. But a quick google for "aerodynamics non smooth surface" shows that several people seem to be working on this topic.

    It would be interesting if the non-smoothness of the aircraft skin (which is presumably a byproduct of the 3d printing) turned out to be actually beneficial in terms of drag - and you'd save the weight of the paint!

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Interesting, although as I've already pointed out, we'll have to paint at least some of the beast, because we need to be able to see it in the air.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        The brightest, most lurid, yellow you can get please! I guess we should probably call it Windows Phone Yellow...

        Although, as a couple of people have noted above, a nice blue to match the Fireflash from Thunderbirds would be fun. But I guess that's not exactly going to help with visibility in the sky. But we could stick to the 50s/60s futuristic theme by going for a nice shiny silver paint job. The 50s jet fighter look would be further enhanced by the addition of cannon, for dealing with rival space-plane-ballocket ventures (especially the ones using hydrogen) - or even for bursting your own balloon prettily. But perhaps that's still a bit too advanced for 3d printing...

    2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      IIRC non-smooth surfaces on air bound surfaces do work due to the way they change the effective air density around them through the micro-vortices created. Something like that anyway :) A linked effect can be had from blowing air out the front of a air-bound object.

      It was only a few years ago that sharks were found to employ a similar effect in water explaining in part their comparatively rough skin and just how fast and efficiently they can move in water. An artificial surface similar to it was used on some yacht or other in the Americas Cup, which led to all kind of secrecy and marketing / publicity shenanigans going on.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "When I looked at the photos, it reminded me of studies I've read about into reducing drag by using non-smooth surfaces. Think golf balls, but with much smaller undulations in the material."

      Mythbusters tested this by covering a car with (big) golf ball dimples. They determined that the dimples did indeed decrease drag - confirmed.

      Would be worth investigating whether any sanding/painting is required.

  15. Pirate Dave Silver badge


    Totally awesome craft.

    Although I do have to wonder why the lads from Southhampton made the "internal structure of the beast's rear fuselage" look like a rear image of Lohan (as in Lindsay) bent over. That made me chortle.

    I look forward to seeing this craft fly.

  16. Sporkinum

    Good British Engineering

    Wellington style!

  17. lawndart


    Lester, is there time for a paint scheme design and vote competition?

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: says:

      I think there is. I was just thinking we should throw the matter over to the readers.

      1. Pet Peeve

        Paint job

        This thing needs a nice coat of shiny silver paint. It's not job done until someone calls in a UFO sighting.

  18. Charles E

    Airframe comparison

    In order to make the design of the Vulture 2 airframe clearer, I have retouched it out of the background, and placed the V-2 against an image of its predecessor, the V-1, as well as another modern canard-wing airframe.

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: Airframe comparison

      I'm kind of coming round to your persistent stand-off missile insistences. Send us the exact GPS co-ordinates of your house and we'll give it a blast. Then we can sell the design to the Iranians and Syrians and retire to the Caribbean.

      1. Pet Peeve

        Re: Airframe comparison

        Lester, don't engage the trolls. They don't care about your opinion and you only look silly when you join them under the bridge.

        I don't think the roughness of the aeroshell will be a problem - back when I flew model rockets as a kid, they were made of cardboard, and the flew just as well painted as unpainted. This looks a little rougher than cardboard, but as others have said, that may actually be a positive, based on some recent research in fluid dynamics.

        The thing that really gets me about the design is that you've created something that would be extremely difficult, if even possible, to duplicate via normal manufacturing. All of those braces in the plastic that so beaufifully spiral around the interior would be maddening to make with injection molding. That's pretty dang cool, but it probably means that we won't see DIY Vulture2 models in the hobby shop, which is a shame.

        I'm sure I'm not the only one excited to hear about the onboard telemetry this thing will have. I assume the intent is to have it navigate back to the launch point - or will you be able to set a destination in flight? At the height of launch, if the autopilot works, you should be able to cover a lot of ground from the launch point. I'm looking forward to following Dave's realtime tracker again.

        1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

          Re: Re: Airframe comparison

          You're right, but send me the GPS co-ords of the bridge and we'll engage that instead.

          A lot of people have mentioned the rough surface. Got to have paint though anyway - visibility issues.

          It's absolutely impossible to do the thing other than by 3D printing. Check the CAD drawings of the wings and their internal structure. Amazing.

          The plan is to pre-programme the landing point. We can calculate the balloon flight path and will be able to ensure there's enough glide slope for the Vulture to land where required.

      2. Charles E

        Re: Airframe comparison

        This isn't funny, Lester. Do you not understand what you are doing? This is no longer a paper airplane built from straws. This is a missile with military grade components. You have already shown the world how to build a radio operated computer controlled detonator. What do you think a rocket motor is? It's a stick of explosive. You've told people where to get these products, and shown your original research on how to get these detonators to work in a vacuum. The same device that can ignite a rocket motor in a vacuum could ignite in an oxygen-free environment like for example, the bottom of a gasoline fuel tank on a bus full of people.

        Now you're getting ready to launch the damn thing. You've built a rail-launch system, just like the Nazis used to launch the V-1 buzz bomb. You've built a GPS guidance system that can guide a glider to specific coordinates, which could be an empty field in Spain, or 10 Downing Street. It has significant payload capacity, since it doesn't have to fly level, it can plummet to earth and merely use its fins to steer, like a GBU-27. There is almost no limit to payload, you can just add more helium balloons to compensate for the extra weight of a few kilos more RDX or C4. You almost have a TV guidance system like the AGM-65 Maverick missile, certainly your PiCam system can transmit enough live telemetry to allow you to watch through the nose cone and steer your missile to the target. Or maybe you didn't think of that. Like you haven't thought ANY of this through. If a bunch of idiots like you guys can build a military grade missile, just think of what the technology you have built and shown to the world, could do in the hands of the wrong people.

        Do the world a favor, Lester. Scrap the missile. Burn it. Remove the detonator plans from El Reg's site. Try to erase all the evidence you were ever connected to such a stupid idea. Because when someone drops one of these things on London, MI5 is going to come looking for YOU.

        1. daveake

          Re: Airframe comparison

          > .. idiot(s) ... military grade

          Coincidentally, those are the 3 words that came to mind when reading your post. Though not necessarily in the same order.

        2. Shippwreck1

          Re: Airframe comparison

          Do you wear a tinfoil hat?

          Even if The Reg decided that actually this was a bad idea and that to save themselves from government spooks they better delete this... i'm relatively sure that they can't delete Google Cache or entries on the WayBackMachine (to name but two) and therefore would be screwed anyway. With that in mind, if you're gonna go down, better to to do it actually having achieved their lofty goal!

          I for one cannot wait for the launch of this and will be watching it live on the stream. As for you... i'd suggest that as you're so concerned you best not come back to The Reg and delete your account... just in case... you never know...

        3. Pet Peeve

          Re: Airframe comparison

          ...This isn't funny, Lester...

          Oh yes it is. Free tip - when trolling someone, you're supposed to make them upset, not make them laugh.

          A point-by point refutation of your post would have to list practically every word with WRONG attached, but since you're "merely" trolling, it's certainly not worth the effort. Go away.

          1. Charles E

            Re: Airframe comparison

            Perhaps you should consider whether Parliament was trolling when it enacted The Dual-Use and Related Goods (Export Control) Regulations 1966, Category 9 - Aircraft, Space Vehicles, Propulsion Systems, and Related Equipment. I'm not certain what regulations would apply at the launch site in Spain, but I have contacted the Tripoli Rocketry Association (active in Spain) and asked them to evaluate the flight systems and launch parameters.

            1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

              Re: Re: Airframe comparison

              Couple of things. This project is not bound by UK law, and even if it were, the cited law has no relation to the project.

              Our dealings are with the Spanish authorities, who are better qualified than you to consider the matter. Please feel free to contact AESA expressing your concerns.

              The Tripoli Rocketry Association is indeed active in Spain, and we have had contact with the local branch. With respect, I do not see that they have dominion over this mission.

              Finally, you have become tiresome, so this is your last post on the matter.

  19. This post has been deleted by its author

  20. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Luvly Stuff

    This is quite a work of art. Lets hope she can also put up a good show for us too.

    Paint colour? Yellow & black stripes so she stings like a bee.

  21. Adair Silver badge

    Regarding the efficiency (or not) of the rough surface...

    I think what posters above are looking for is the term 'laminar flow'. Not my field of expertise, but it can certainly make a huge difference to the 'slipperiness' of an object moving through a medium (liquid or gas).

    However, from what I recall, it is a bit if a black art when it comes to getting it right. So, whether the degree of roughness of LOHAN's surface will increase or decrease the drag experienced at a given air density and velocity would require the expertise of someone who actually knows what they are talking about. Either way I doubt it would make a significant difference, unless the team's objective to to extract every possible bit of performance out of LOHAN. Still, it may be a conversation worth having as a genuinely shiny paint job will certainly add weight.

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      Re: Regarding the efficiency (or not) of the rough surface...

      It turns out that what you really need is a tiny layer of turbulent flow, that more-or-less acts as a layer of ball bearings for the laminar flow layer above, to lower drag. Getting the layer thick enough to work, but thin enough not to cause severe turbulence which may lead to much worse resistance is indeed not trivial at all, and the correct roughness also depends on speed. You would probably need extensive (and expensive) wind-tunnel testing to get it right.

      1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

        Re: Re: Regarding the efficiency (or not) of the rough surface...

        It's fantastic stuff, but way beyond what we can do, sadly. So, orange, red or blue for the paint job?

        1. Splodger

          Re: Regarding the efficiency (or not) of the rough surface...

          Quite like the idea of a Red Arrow stylee paint job as previously mentioned.

          Just mask the white areas?

          Great looking vehicle btw, looking forward to launch day.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    Again, gratuitous LOHAN subtile opportunity missed!!

    Not even a "See LOHAN with her kit off"?

    El Reg must be embracing responsibility late in life. Unfortunately, I am not yet there myself.....

  23. ecofeco Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Looking good!

    Impressive design. Looking good.

    Good luck!

  24. willi0000000

    color choice

    i'm from across that big pond but i can only think of one color (yes, we spell funny) and that would be British Racing Green.

    that said, it's one helluva machine you've got there!

  25. jubtastic1


    I know its a bit late to mention this but don't those 3D printers take different colour plastic stock? you could print the lower sections in black/red and the uppers in white, and have no need to paint it, maybe next time.

    As far as painting goes though I'd be happy with SR-71 Matt black or gloss red.

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: Paint

      3D printers can be fed with different colour stock, and while this is sometimes useful, on a project like this a "natural" colour would be better as the addition of the colour dyes can quite significantly change the mechanical and thermal tolerances of the plastic.

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