I normally don’t take on commission work for 3D-printed aircraft, but when DBT Aero reached out to me in need of an R/C test bed for their full-scale design, it was hard to pass up the opportunity to work with them on such a challenging and interesting project. My initial reaction to seeing images of its design was, “Wow, that is not your typical looking aircraft. I really want to see that thing fly.” But as I’ve continued to work with them on this project, I’ve come to learn that DBT Aero’s mission is about something way more important than just building an intriguing-looking aircraft.
DBT Aero is currently developing and performing ground testing on a full-scale prototype of its patented Double Box Tail (DBT) aircraft, the Synergy Prime. It is the company’s first in a family of ultra-efficient airframes that bring affordability, sustainability, high speed and unique payload capabilities to personal, business, cargo, military & recreational aviation. In conjunction with the final roll-out of the full-scale, five-seater Synergy Prime, we are using SOLIDWORKS and 3D-printing techniques to develop an unmanned, 1/6th scale version of the aircraft.
Thankfully, DBT Aero uses SOLIDWORKS for its full-scale design, so I was able to get a head start on the design of the 1/6th-scale airframe. However, this project still introduced some interesting technical challenges, such as designing the airframe to house retractable landing gear, designing for strategically placed carbon fiber tubes in the internal structure of the airframe for added strength, and designing the airframe to break down into several individual pieces for easy transportation.
The main wings, winglets, tail booms, and elevons are removable and able to be packed flat. But one of the most unique design features on this model are the direct drive control surfaces. The elevons on the Synergy are fully-articulating, not just split from the rear of the tail surface so they house a unique servo designed for thin wings. The servos directly drive the elevons without the need for pushrods, leaving the servos completely hidden inside the aircraft and maintaining a streamlined airframe. The rudders are driven using the same servo with a similar mechanical setup.
I am a big proponent of multi-material designs, so I’ve used several different materials in this build. The outer shell of the design is mostly printed using a lightweight, foaming PLA to keep the weight down. Key components are printed from a more rigid standard PLA for added strength. PETG was used in areas where heat resistance is needed, like the motor mount and the tire hubs. The tires themselves were printed from a foaming, flexible TPU to provide rubber-like performance.
I conducted the maiden flight during a yearly fly-in at my local R/C club, and one thing was evident when seeing the Synergy on the flightline: its unique aesthetic helps it stand out from the crowd. But having a unique aesthetic isn’t the main goal with this design. DBT Aero’s mission with this design is to reshape the way we think about aircraft design, with a focus on improving humanity. That’s what sold me on working with them on this project. Seeing the amount of time, passion, blood, sweat, and tears they have put into the development of this aircraft is inspiring. And this portion of their project is just the first step in ongoing development to turn this aircraft into an autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicle as a testbed for future commercial applications.
Check out the video below to learn more about the design, build, and test flight process of the R/C version of this revolutionary aircraft.
Thanks for watching and, as always, I encourage you to never stop exploring, never stop questioning, and never stop playing.