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Written by Jim T. Graham
3D Printing and RC
As seen in the January 2019 issue of
Model Aviation.

What does 3-D printing have to do with the RC hobby? I was asked that question today, so I thought about it. Then I realized this would be a great topic for my Model Aviation column!

If you are an RC hobbyist, you probably like to tinker, build, and make things work. It’s all a part of the hobby. We don’t just fly or drive things remotely—we put them together and we figure out how they work. When we get something that works, we start to modify our project. I know that is how my brain works.

Until recently, all of my modifications involved preexisting parts from companies such as Ready Made RC or Du-Bro. I also keep various sizes of balsa and other "craft" woods to create servo and motor mounts, camera decks, and more. I’m here to tell you that my modeling world has just been opened up!

Jason Cole and I have been flying and working in the RC industry for more than a decade, so we often talk about our recent builds and projects. Lately he has been into 3-D printers. He is now on his third one.

I did a little research and got some input from Jason. I waited to choose a printer because it seemed like it was a ton of work just to get one put together and correctly working.

I decided I had waited long enough and took the plunge with a Creality3D CR-10 3-D printer from GearBest … now what? The printer received a lot of praise on YouTube and it had a bigger print bed than what I had expected. When it arrived, I took the big box into my 14-2019-old son’s room and proclaimed, "We are now 3-D printers!" He was as excited as I was!

The setup was easy compared with some airplanes that I have built, and everything I needed was in the box. The company even included spare parts, which I appreciated.

Now it was time to figure out how to make it dance. My son insisted on a few projects that he found, and I ended up with big piles of plastic spaghetti. It was then that I realized I had broken my own rule—I strayed too far before knowing my machine. The printer came with a 3-D object on an SD card. I hit the print button and was amazed!

When the first airplane that I ever built took to the air and actually flew, I just couldn’t believe it. It didn’t seem realistic to expect a wooden airplane that I had worked on for a January to actually fly!

That is how I felt after my first 3-D printed object was made. The details! The smoothness! Unbelievable.

What does 3-D printing have to do with RC? In response to that, I ventured online to Thingiverse. This is a website where people such as you and I can share our 3-D creations. You can simply download them and then hit print.

Awesome files such as this can be found on the internet and are waiting to be printed!

This is where the fun part began. I had just purchased a new micro FPV camera that had no body. I typed in the camera’s part number and to my surprise, there were multiple 3-D-printable enclosures—cool! I entered the name of one of my current airplanes, the Stratosurfer. There waiting for me were custom canopies, motor mounts, and more. This was like Christmas morning!

Can I alter things I download from the website to suit my RC needs? Yes! I found a canopy for the Stratosurfer and did some research. I also discovered an online application that worked through a webpage. I opened the canopy file and with little effort, I figured out how to create an exit hole at the back to keep the internal components cool. This is what the future is supposed to be like!

Can I make my own 3-D designs? Yes again! I am the king daddy of creating custom things. I do it for every project and sometimes my ideas work, but rarely do they look professional.

Now I have the ability to decide if this airplane needs something—whether it is a camera mount, an air inlet, a faux 350 motor with blower, or eyeballs … whatever—I can design and print it, which makes me happy and excited!

Did I know that a 3-D printer would excite me this much? No. I had no idea that having the printer in the background whizzing and making something would make me happy. I know it sounds weird. All I can figure is that I am a maker. I’m always making something. It is an internal need and I guess this 3-D printer, which is only limited by size, allows me to make whatever I want. The modification world is mine!

Should you get a 3-D printer? If you were a regular kind of person I might not have a definite answer for you, but because you are an RC pilot, then it’s easy. Yes! You as a modeler will not only appreciate the things you can do with a 3-D printer, you will appreciate the entire process.


Creality3D CR-10 printer


Canopy 3-D file

The author’s Stratosurfer canopy is almost done!

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