I was an ID student in the early '90s when our Production Methods professor told us about this magic machine being developed for the U.S. Navy. Navy ships, he explained, had to carry a huge amount of spare parts. "The goal is for every ship to be self-sustaining," confirmed my buddy Mike Cinquino, a former Petty Officer 3rd Class on the supply ship U.S.S. Detroit. "The idea is that you can take a missile hit and fix the damage with what's on hand." So each ship has storerooms full of thousands of metal nuts, bolts and pieces in different shapes and sizes, which is necessary—and wasteful. But the magic machine my professor talked about was some sort of newfangled 3D printer sitting next to a hopper full of metal powder; a technician would punch in a part number, dump a predetermined amount of powder in, and the machine would spit the part out. No more shelves lined with parts you'll never need.
Nowadays, of course, Rapid Prototyping machines are a reality. I never learned if the laser sintering machine my professor described became standard Navy issue, but now researchers at the UK's University of Southampton in conjunction with RP firm 3T RPD have adapted laser sintering technology to another military application: producing aircraft.
With its entire structure, including wings, integral control surfaces and access hatches all having been printed on an EOS EOSINT P730 nylon laser sintering machine, which fabricates plastic or metal objects, through a successive layering technique, the SULSA (Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft) plane has been designed to function as an unmanned air vehicle (UAV).
...This 3D printed plane was put together without using any fasteners, with all equipment being attached using 'snap fit' techniques. Implementing this technique makes it possible to assemble the entire aircraft in minutes without using any tools.
With a top speed of nearly 100 miles per hour, this electric-powered aircraft has a 2-metres wingspan, is equipped with an autopilot, and in cruise-mode, is said to be almost silent.
Learn more about the SULSA project here.